In the parable of the Good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke, a lawyer put Jesus to the test by asking a bold question: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The lawyer already knew the answer written in the Law, which is love God and love your neighbour. Not fully satisfied with the answer, he followed up with an honest question, “And who is my neighbour?” I have been thinking about this simple yet challenging question as I encounter others in my daily life, work, church and neighbourhood. I am confronted with the truth of Jesus’ teaching in the parable about how to be a good neighbour who shows love, compassion, and mercy to others.
I didn’t always love my neighbour the drunken gardener, or my neighbour the rich gentrifier, or my unknown neighbour in the yellow house.
In her book City of God, Sara Miles writes about her diverse neighbourhood in the Mission District of San Francisco and offers some deep reflections about the kind of neighbour she is: “Like the lawyer who challenges Jesus, I often wished to weasel out of responsibility, hoping to calibrate who, precisely, was my neighbour; how much, exactly, I was required to love which people. I didn’t always love my neighbour the drunken gardener, or my neighbour the rich gentrifier, or my unknown neighbour in the yellow house. And I really dreaded the parable’s implication that I could be saved by what they had to give.”
I admire Miles’ courage in confessing how we often struggle to respond to God’s call to love our neighbours as ourselves. We might not know our neighbours or even like our neighbours, but we need to hear God’s call and allow it to guide our faith and actions to love our neighbours on the streets, in schools, at work, in churches, and in our own neighbourhoods.
Every Wednesday night at my church, I work with volunteers to organize a community dinner where we cook, eat, and share food and stories with our neighbours, friends, families, and strangers. It is a vibrant scene of kids running around the room, someone playing the piano, volunteers chopping vegetables and preparing the meal, and people having coffee and conversations in multiple languages as they wait for dinner. There are singles, couples, and families from all walks of life connecting over food around a table. The faces of our neighbours include many refugees and asylum seekers, who live next door at the Welcome Centre, a transitional housing and support centre serving refugees and immigrants.
Recently, I noticed a new person who started coming to our weekly community dinner.
Recently, I noticed a new person who started coming to our weekly community dinner. At first she came by herself, then she brought a friend. I welcomed her to our dinner and she shared her story with me — she emigrated from Costa Rica and has lived in our neighbourhood for almost 10 years and didn’t really know her neighbours. She wanted to know who her neighbours are, so she came to our community dinner in hopes of meeting some of her neighbours, including people in our church. I was encouraged by her earnest desire and openness to reach out and build relationships with her neighbours. I am reminded of the gift of being rooted in this diverse multicultural neighbourhood where I live and work, and the continuous call to show hospitality to new and old neighbours.
We all want to know and be known, but sometimes our fears and vulnerability get in the way of reaching out to neighbours, welcoming the stranger, and building real relationships with people who love and care for us. In a society where many people experience isolation and loneliness, we yearn for a sense of belonging and acceptance. As an immigrant myself, I understand and empathize with newcomers to Canada who struggle to settle, integrate, and be part of their neighbourhoods.
What is your vision of neighbourliness? My vision is one of neighbours taking care of neighbours. The stakes are high because we have to be vulnerable, build trust, learn to give, and be humbled to ask for help and receive from others. My hope is to take up God’s command to love my neighbours as my vocation.
The word vocation comes from the Latin vocare, which means “to call.” I am called to be present with people, pay attention to needs in the community, celebrate joys and remember sorrows together, and show love instead of fear, apathy, or judgment toward my neighbours.
My hope is to take up God’s command to love my neighbours as my vocation.
On an individual level, we can make serious efforts to meet our neighbours and get to know them through shared meals, neighbourhood activities, community gardens, and events in public spaces. On a collective level, we can build welcoming, diverse and inclusive neighbourhoods, and advocate for just policies for marginalized neighbours who experience poverty, homelessness, and discrimination in our communities.
We can remind each other of the parable of the Good Samaritan and aspire to live into the call to love our neighbours. Let us hear and hold on to God’s faithful words: “Love your neighbour as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:9-10).