The Question of Neighbourliness

“Am I being a neighbour without limits, qualifications, equivocation, or hesitation?”

News January 24, 2024

24 January| St. Albans, UK [Adrian Peck and tedNEWS]

“So here’s the thing,” says Adrian Peck. “The more time I spend studying God’s purposes for local churches, the more amazed I am at what God intends for them. They are to be places of Spirit-empowered healing and authentic community; of joy and tears; of God-encountering worship; of exciting transformation; of meaning and purpose; of defiance,  justice and humanity… As I have been writing, in my mind’s eye, I have been going on a journey. Partly, this was encouraged by the parable of the good Samaritan – mostly because I recognise the journey I have undertaken in transitioning from thinking about ‘me’ to thinking about ‘us’ and how this has revolutionised my understanding of  God and His mission.” 

Excerpts from Peck’s book, Church on the Move – From Isolation to Community, recently published by Stanborough Press, will feature in every regular edition of tedNEWS for the next nine months. In doing so, we’re inviting you to become a fellow traveller with Peck. Interestingly, his book offers ‘movements’ rather than ‘chapters’ to encourage a sense of the reader ‘being in transition’. If there was a book that could have been specifically written to wrestle over the meaning of the Trans-European Division’s three strategic values to Extend Love, Grow Lifelong Disciples, and Multiply Communities, it is this one.

“Peck brings a perspective of church life that is both real and informed.”

With his experience of growing up Adventist in the UK, a product of early years and high school Adventist education, an Adventist health food factory employee, active in church life as a worship leader and elder – and then experiencing the slow but sure call to pastoral ministry – the spiritual gift of teaching broke through. Currently serving as Lecturer in Pastoral Studies and Director of Field Education at Newbold College of Higher Education, Peck brings a perspective of church life that is both real and informed.

Editors.

Movement 1:

The Question of Neighbourliness

It’s a favourite approach of teachers to tell their students that there is no such thing as a stupid question. Or, the only stupid question is the one that has never been asked. Debatable as this understanding is, there are questions that arguably should never see the light of day. For example, ones that pry and poke away at personal issues such as: “When are you having children?” or “Why aren’t you married yet?”

In an exchange with Jesus in Luke 10:25-37, a lawyer gets to ask two questions. The first, in verse 25, has the lawyer ‘testing’ Jesus according to Luke, when he asks, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” However, it is the second question that is my focus here. It comes in verse 29, where the lawyer’s follow-up question to Jesus is, “And who is my neighbour?” Now, this may not be a stupid question, but I suggest it is a bad one. I acknowledge that Jesus uses this question as a launch pad for telling the amazing story of the Good Samaritan, so turning things around to make this a teachable moment. However, once that lesson has been learnt, this question is so bad it should be locked away along with those boundary-crossing enquiries referred to earlier.

Assumptions behind questions

It’s the assumptions behind questions that can make them unacceptable, you see. For instance, asking someone why they are not married yet suggests everyone must get married and that somehow there is something wrong with being single, despite what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7. And as to that question as to who our neighbours are – well, there is at least one major assumption or premise that needs surfacing.

The challenge with this question is that it seems to be such a reasonable one when taken at face value. It arrives in the context of the lawyer having asserted that the answer to eternal life is to be found in loving God absolutely and holistically and loving one’s neighbour as oneself. And, if I am to love my neighbour, shouldn’t I then understand who my neighbour is?

From this perspective, the question assumes that we have to walk the highways and byways looking for the person who best qualifies for our tender ministrations. Preferably, it would be someone stranded in the middle of nowhere destitute and in desperate need so we can follow in the Good Samaritan’s awesomely altruistic footsteps. Well, perhaps not someone who is quite so dramatically in need as the man who fell into the hands of robbers, was stripped naked, beaten, and left half dead. Maybe it could be about helping someone suffering from and wrestling with a flat tyre on the side of the road. Or, how about a person who needs a little money for food or a fare ride to their destination? We might even look closer to home by seeking out the elderly person a house or two along who cannot mow her lawn. Or, it could be about looking to relieve the burden of the man from across the road who has a bad back and is struggling to carry his shopping.

As noble as these acts might be, do they go far enough? Because Jesus responds to this question by telling the story of the Good Samaritan, it is tempting to see neighbourliness ultimately expressed in responding to those we would normally be reluctant to help. They may not be victims of a vicious mugging, but they could be those who are impoverished due to socio-economic factors. Or, maybe those who are at a disadvantage because of their gender, ethnicity, disability, or the myriad of things that cause people to be marginalised, ignored, or forgotten. Consequently, we might think that it’s a good idea to define ‘neighbour’ as those who need help – particularly those whose need I and others might, at first, be disinclined to respond to.

“Who isn’t your neighbour?”

What, then, is the problem I have with the question of who our neighbour is? Seeing value in Jesus’ approach, which often involves responding to a question with a question, I shall do the same. My question in response to the lawyer’s is simply this: “Who isn’t your neighbour?” There are a number of supplementary questions that could follow… just to ram the point home. Whom are you seeking to exclude? What limits are you looking to put in place where your neighbourliness is concerned? Or, in other words, who doesn’t qualify for your neighbourly love? When approached from this perspective, the shocking nature of the question starts to emerge in that it splits the world into neighbour and not-neighbour. Let’s hope and pray we do not fall into the latter group if seeking help from one such as our legal eagle.

Hence, the underlying assumption that makes this a bad question is that it assumes neighbourliness is a question of identification. Now, in one sense, it is. For, having drawn the parable to a close, Jesus asks the lawyer to pick out which of the three, from the Priest, Levite, and Samaritan, “was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” Note well, however, that the three-person identity parade was not convened so the lawyer could single out the recipient of neighbourly love. Rather, it entailed identifying who was being a neighbour.

“Neighbourliness… is an ongoing posture oriented by love directed towards all.”

“Am I being a neighbour without limits, qualifications, equivocation, or hesitation?”

Consequently, is our lawyer prompted to ask a different question perhaps? One directed not at Jesus but himself this time? Is this question forming slowly and uncomfortably inside his head? Does he ask, “Am I being a neighbour?” Does he get what Jesus is trying to teach? Dare he expand that question to enquire, “Am I being a neighbour without limits, qualifications, equivocation, or hesitation?”

This concept of neighbourliness is breathtaking in its scope and daunting in terms of the responsibility it places on us who purport to love God and follow Christ. Because it is a state of being and because neighbour describes not so much what we do or who we help but who we are, it has consequences. It means neighbourliness can never be understood as a part-time or some-time vocation directed towards a chosen few. Rather, it is an ongoing posture oriented by love directed towards all.

As Adventist congregations, what limits or qualifications do we put in place where our neighbourliness is concerned? Is neighbourliness only for those of us who have the time and resources? Is our neighbourliness directed only towards those who walk in through the front door of the church building? Indeed, is neighbourliness restricted to a certain few, even within the congregation? Is our neighbourliness consciously or unwittingly restricted to those of a certain status, ethnicity, or sexual orientation? It’s easy to respond to those questions with a resounding “No!” However, we all draw the line somewhere. It’s what makes being a neighbour so challenging.

 

  • Continued in the February edition of tedNEWS, ‘Movement 2’, “Bad Breath, Awkward Silences, and the Art of Being Uncomfortable”. 

 


Copies of Church on the Move are available from Life Source Christian Bookshop (the retail arm of Stanborough Press). The book is also available as an eBook for Kindle. [Photos: Stanborough Press (featured image), David Neal and Shutterstock].

Latest News

See All

Movement 5

Human Waste and Human Beings

News

TED Spring Meeting

"For we are to God, the pleasing aroma of Christ."

News

Spring Meeting Elections

Marcel Ghioalda, Kevin Johns and Branislav Mirilov elected to serve.

News