Who is my neighbour?


It would appear that the commandment ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ which goes right back to Leviticus (19:18) has always drawn the question “who is my neighbour?” as if we all want to be sure that we can include those we want to love and exclude the rest. Many commentators often try to whittle down the possibilities to produce a smaller category. Isn’t that what we all want? There are plenty of people around that I just have no desire to show love to! I do not like being told to extend my loving embrace beyond my own circle! It’s only human nature. Meeting that question head on, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan (which has come to be lost on us to some extent since we no longer view Samaritans with the same contempt that first century Jews had). Though if you wish to take a deeper thought from the parable that I never realised myself, take a look at the ‘grammatical tweak‘ Jesus performs.

Reading a daily devotional from my own church the other morning, I was struck by a thought. The devotional highlighted a legal statement made under tort law (which seeks to define cases eligible for civil lawsuits). It came from Lord Atkins in a 1932 case, where he answered that perennial question ‘who is my neighbour?’ in a very concise and helpful way:

“The answer seems to be persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called in question.”

If we accept this very concise and very apt description, then practically everybody we coilovemankindme into contact with is our neighbour, whom we are to love. This could be anybody that any ‘act or omission‘ on my part would affect, so not even offering a smile to someone could be an omission by me that otherwise would have affected that person: Even that person who cut into my lane last week and nearly swiped the entire wing off my car. I can assure you I did not give her a smile!

If you think this only applies to acts you do, not ‘omission’ of acts you did not do, think again:

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:17

Though I’ve long known that the above is the true definition of my neighbour (and I have grave reservations about anyone trying to narrow it), I now realise that in the 21st century, this must go even further! Social media has turned the ‘global village’ into a thriving metropolis. Those who used to be people we sent emails to in order to be faster than traditional ‘snail mail’ can now be easily messaged or tweeted instantly, at any time or place in the world (with internet connection). I can raise someone up or put them down with my all-powerful words, and that someone could be a total stranger to me thousands of miles away. Only now they are no longer a stranger, they are my neighbour! I have forged relationships with new people on Facebook, friended friends of friends, and entered into lengthy debates over faith and politics with other commenters on various blogs, articles or Facebook posts. I have maintained relationships with people I no longer meet in person, and rekindled old ones. This new world of communication makes our need to be salt and light all the more potent, dynamic, consuming and precarious! Especially when you consider the pitfalls of the absence on social media of non-verbal communication!!

May we consider carefully every word we type and ‘send button’ we hit!


Grace be with you.

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