(Luke 10:29, NASB)
I had just turned the heater on when I heard the knock on my office door. I opened it to see a woman.
"Excuse me," she said. "We just noticed one of your windows is broken."
It's not unusual to find neighbors on our church property. On the edge of an area zoned for manufacturing, a major residential area begins to the south of our church campus. A large grassy area covers that side of property. Those who have been at the church a long time may see the grass as a missed opportunity. The original plans included many more classrooms and a small chapel, and the grassy area would have been replaced with buildings for education and worship. However, the early members of our church never got around to finishing development for one reason or another. So, these days, we often find our neighbors throwing a football, practing casting their fishing rods, or like today, playing with their dogs. Hello, neighbor.
As a church we do our best to make use of that area. We gated off a small section so our children's department can safely take students outside to run around. Over the years we've had many barbeques and water balloon fights. We even purchased a blow up movie screen to host movie nights during the summer.
These local residents are our neighbors and it's generally easy to love them.
But what about the others? What about the person who, for example, broke our window? What about the person a few years ago who graffiti'd our trash cans? What about the man who asked (that is, told) us to make expensive repairs to a portion of our building "because he loved Jesus"? Can we invite these people to be our neighbors also?
Indeed, those needing to be accepted as neighbors are the ones from whom we least benefit. When the Samaritan helped the man on the road in Jesus' parable, he was generous with time and money. He took care of his physical needs, transported him to an inn, stayed the evening there, paid the man's debt, and promised to return in case more was needed.
The Samaritan was a neighbor to the man before the man could decide he wanted a neighbor.
It's easy to befriend the Mr Rogers of the world who declare "I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you." However, when we find our neighbor is more Oscar the Grouch than Mr Rogers, it is then that we can truly model God's love. We can love first (1 John 4:19).