We are hitting neighborly conduct in our text today. Unfortunately, it’s a neighbor who is not so nice. Even so, we are called to be ‘good neighbors’.
I’m sure most of us would raise our hands if asked if we had a neighbor problem. Sometimes it is something simple to solve while other times it results in a long drawn out court battle. How we handle these disagreements is important. Do we fight dirty or follow Jesus’ commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself”?
The way I phrased the question leaves little doubt about which direction we are supposed to go. Jesus’ command didn’t abolish the Ten Commandments, but it focused instead on practical implications of being a neighbor. Not a list of don’ts but an easy concept of what it looks like.
Jesus’ words go beyond our author’s but that’s not surprising. He IS Wisdom where our author only got glimpses of wisdom. Let’s put some imagination into how Jesus’ words and our author’s would look regarding neighborly behavior.
First of all, the ‘neighborhood gossip’ springs to my mind. This is the person who is always ready with a word about what is going on in everyone else’s homes. This person isn’t afraid to share what they ‘know’ with any who would listen. Their conclusions might have a basis in truth. In fact, they might be spot on. But when that they go around spreading their ‘opinion’ they are stepping OUT of the behavior one hopes for from a neighbor. They are “being a witness without cause.”
I have a neighbor who has gotten on the bad side of most of those near him. This position has been gained by his own actions and words. But that doesn’t excuse those who are ready to jump to the worst conclusions when they hear noises coming from behind his fence. I have no idea what the ‘cement mixer sound’ or chainsaw sounds mean and it’s not my business to. Yet a few of his neighbors are right there with a conclusion and condemnation for each occurrence. They are ready to tell any who will listen what they “KNOW”. And their ‘knowledge’ stirs even more bad feelings towards this neighbor. Honestly, I don’t blame this neighbor for hiding behind his fence, considering what is said about him, even though it breeds more suspicion.
We don’t KNOW our neighbor’s life. We cannot claim to understand their motives, needs, wants, or even dreams when we don’t TALK TO THEM DIRECTLY. Let them fill in the missing pieces. Once you have those pieces, it’s easy see their struggle and want to stop the rumor mill from breaking them into pieces.
The second ‘unneighborly behavior’ our author highlights is man’s desire to ‘get even’. “He hurt me so I’m going to hurt him back.”
This reminds me of a Jujitsu teacher I once had. It was informal lessons but his concepts let me know this was NOT the person I wanted to train with! “If he bruises me, I break his bone. If he breaks my bone, I take his life.” One upping whatever is done first. This kind of thinking leaves a bloody and battered world with no way out because forgiveness, compassion and understanding are removed.
Of course, I have an example of this too. (Sometimes I wonder how I got so ‘blessed’ with ready examples.) A few years ago, our irrigation pump was thrown into the creek. We are certain it was deliberate because of how secure it was initially set. There were, of course, immediate suspects. The most prominent one being the neighbor I previously referenced. Nothing was ever proven or admitted to but some people, who shall remain nameless, wanted to retaliate. The neighbor didn’t have an irrigation pump but other scenarios were concocted. Fortunately, none of these schemes were carried out and everyone moved on. However, there is still resentment and suspicion coloring how this neighbor is treated.
NO amount of “you did it to me so I’ll do it to you” will solve the problem. It might if the ‘problem’ was a positive action instead. “You brought me casserole so I’ll return your dish with something baked in it for you.” Now THAT would be a nice neighborhood ‘problem’ to have!
Jesus’ words leave no place for revenge. He didn’t say; “Do to your neighbor as he has done to you”, or “Do to your neighbor as you think he is about to do to you” but “Do to your neighbor as YOU would have HIM do to you.” This command is in SPITE of whatever the neighbor has already done or may do in the future.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well” (Matthew 5:38-40). THIS is the love that Jesus has called us to show to ALL, including the neighbor that isn’t that fun to share the street with.
Father God, forgive me for my part in feeding into unneighborly relations. I know that in our world today few people even know their neighbors but that does NOT excuse being unneighborly. I have cultivated a few relationships but should I do more? What would You have me do in this area, BESIDES refusing to listen to bad reports?
Yes Holy Spirit, I WILL pray for my neighbors; even the ones I don’t know. I feel that is the answer You gave to the question I just asked. Help me follow through. Help me make praying for them a part of my daily routine. There are MANY who I need to include in daily prayer. I was thinking not so long ago that my prayers seem to be so short and repetitive. It’s time to change that. Help me remember AND act upon today’s lesson. Thank You for speaking into my life through Your words.