By Annette Griffin, Crosswalk.com
A homeless man makes his living at the corner of Maple and Elm—right near the stop sign that many people in our small town ignore. We pass by him every Sunday morning on the way to church. On the off chance we’re not in a rush, I’m not finishing my makeup in the visor mirror, and we aren’t busy refereeing the kids in the backseat—we’ll wave at the man we’ve affectionately named Good Neighbor. The reason we call this homeless man by the moniker is because whenever we glance his way he greets us with a toothless smile, holds out his hand, and says in a broken dialect, “Good Neighbor, yes?” In response, my husband will often scoop the spare change from the door well and drop it into the man’s palm.
What the Good Samaritan Says about Good Neighbors
One Sunday morning, due to a fender-bender at the intersection, we were stuck behind a line of cars at that stop sign. We were late for church. Very late, considering my husband, the worship leader, needed to arrive an hour before the service began. The only consolation was that we spotted our Pastor’s SUV a few cars ahead of us in the same pile-up. While we waited for the accident to clear, an impatient motorist behind us hopped the curb and gunned his jeep over the small grassy median to flip a U-turn. In the process, the driver clipped Good Neighbor with his vehicle and left him moaning and bleeding in the grass.
“Daddy, Daddy, Good Neighbor is hurt,” our son said, echoing our collective horror at the scene. My husband reached for the door handle, but a shrill whistle stopped him. The police officer who had been reporting the fender-bender was now signaling for the flow of traffic to resume. We glanced ahead to see our Pastor’s vehicle slowly roll past Good Neighbor. I dialed his wife’s cell and put her on speaker. “Lydia, did you see the hit and run?”
“Yes, It was awful.”
“Should we do something?” I said, trying to keep the quiver from my voice for the kids’ sake.
“I don’t think we have time,” she said, “and we have the congregation to think about. If the man has COVID or some other disease we could put everyone at risk. Besides, it looks like the officer is already calling it in. There’s nothing we can do.”
Later we found out that shortly after we left the scene, the town drunk had pulled over, loaded Good Neighbor into his car, and drove him to the hospital.
Jesus told parables to shine the light of truth on the deep inner-workings of our hearts. Those to whom He told the stories were well acquainted with the law and God’s commands but were often blinded to how that truth applied to them.
The story I just told was a modern-day version of Jesus’ famous Good Samaritan parable. Though the characters and story are fictional, the scenario hits us where we live.
How many times have we appeased our conscience by passing off a handful of spare change in lieu of being a good neighbor? How often have we justified ignoring the needs of others by using wisdom, safety, and prudence as our excuse? There’s a fine line between exercising good judgment and loving your neighbor as yourself. And now, in this new COVID world, that line of delineation is even less clear.
Does God’s command to, “'Love your neighbor as yourself,” take into account our need to protect ourselves from the plague that has ravaged our world?
Who are our neighbors, and what responsibilities do we have to them in light of these current events? Have the rules changed? Where do we find the balance between wisdom and love?
In How to Love Your Neighbor from 6 Feet Away during Social Distancing, Adam Weber gives us a timely reminder. “It’s important to remember that your neighbors—whether that’s your physical next-door neighbor, the cashier behind the plexiglass at the grocery store, or your kid’s 2nd-grade teacher—need to be loved, maybe more than ever, right now. Just because “normal” life isn’t a reality for a lot of us right now, doesn’t mean we should take a break from reaching out and loving the people God puts in our lives.”
What Does the Bible Say about Being a Good Neighbor?
“Over and over again, the Bible reminds us that, as Christ-followers, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is our privilege and responsibility to care for others and to love them the way God loves them. This is Kingdom work. This truth permeates Scripture and should permeate our thoughts, words, deeds, and actions as well. With the Bible as our guide, we can understand what it truly means to be a good neighbor,” says Bobbie Schaeperkoetter in 10 Verses that Teach Us How To Be a Good Neighbor. Here are a few key verses to lead us to God’s heart on the subject:
“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you-‘when you already have it with you” Proverbs 3:27-28.
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” Romans 13:8-10.
“No one should seek their own good, but the good of others” 1 Corinthians 10:24.
“Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner but blessed is he who is generous to the poor” Proverbs 14:21.
Why Has COVID Made People Avoid Being a Good Neighbor?
Mask mandates, social distancing, church closures, and remote learning/working may all be necessary precautions put in place to keep the virus from spreading, but the isolation these measures were created to achieve is the same isolation that can cause us to alienate our neighbors if we aren’t careful.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of what’s happening during this pandemic,” says Lynette Kittle in 10 Ways to Reach Out in Love During the Coronavirus Outbreak. Fear has threatened the hearts and faith of many during these trying times—giving us an excuse to hide out, hole up, and ride out the storm in seclusion. But we know that God’s perfect love casts out fear. That love can and will guide us to find safe, creative ways to be the good neighbor in this COVID world.
What Are Examples from Scripture on How to Be a Good Neighbor?
“The Apostle Paul was often prevented from meeting with churches and believers in person. This did not stop him from writing to fellow believers or praying for them from where he was,” says Joel Ryan in 10 Ways Christians Can Exemplify Faith and Peace during COVID-19. We see examples of this in 2 Timothy 2:9, Acts 16:25, Acts 28:30-31—to name a few.
When Jesus encountered the infamous woman at the well, in the fourth chapter of John, the woman was experiencing a self-inflicted isolation. The shame she felt because of her bondage to sin had made her withdraw from the judgmental comments and stares of her Samaritan neighbors. But while others shunned the woman, Jesus sought her out. He reached across cultural boundaries—across the barrier of sin she’d built—and touched her. Not like other men had touched her. Jesus touched her heart with truth, way, and life.
In the story of the healing of the paralytic at Capernaum found in Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12, and Luke 5:17-26, we are shown a great example of how no barrier can ever keep us from using sacrificial love to meet the needs of others. Not wanting to battle the large crowd that had gathered to hear Jesus speak, the paralytic man’s three friends found a resourceful way to avoid the throng to ensure their friend’s access to Jesus’s healing power.
3 Ways to Be a Good Neighbor in a COVID World
With this in mind, let’s explore some ways to be good neighbors in a COVID world.
The Apostle Paul didn’t have the World Wide Web available at his fingertips, yet he did not let the isolation of imprisonment keep him from his God-given mission. Nor should we allow the confines of quarantine and social distancing to keep us from our mission to be good neighbors.
“It’s helpful to remember that Christians before us were dispersed because of persecution, resulting in the spread of the Gospel far and wide. Perhaps our current forced dispersion will awaken the church to new ways to share God’s love. This is the church’s moment to shine, and to use every means possible to share the Good News and meet needs innovatively,” says J. Scott McElroy, in 25 Creative Church Ministry Ideas during COVID-19.
Touch People—Without Touching People
Jesus touched the woman at the well by making Himself available to her, showing her that He truly knew her, and by sharing the truth wrapped in love. Other men had tried to reach the woman’s heart through physical touch, but it wasn’t until she encountered Jesus that she truly understood her deepest longings could only be fulfilled by the redemptive touch of her Savior.
Adam Weber says it this way in How to Love Your Neighbor from 6 Feet Away during Social Distancing: “We don’t have to touch our neighbor to love them well. Words are powerful. Let’s use them. To let someone know they’re not alone. To help someone see the ways God is at work in their lives. To tell a person about the incredible gifts they have.”
Don’t Let Fear Become a Barrier
If we look at the pandemic strictly from the media’s perspective the fear that it breeds will soon become the impenetrable fortress that boxes us in—along with the hope that lies within us.
Yes, we can and should be a good neighbor by wearing masks and taking the other necessary precautions, but we need to realize that if our motive for doing these things is driven by fear then fear will become our master.
When we walk in fear it paralyzes us from taking leaps of faith to help our neighbors during these unprecedented times. Fear-based wisdom would say, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” But faith-based wisdom frees us to hear God’s gentle whisper when He says, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
In When Fear Paralyzes Your Faith Renee Swope describes a time when she was in the grip of fear and found hope through God’s promise. “Although I thought I was controlling my circumstances, fear had taken control of me. Frustrated that I still couldn’t sleep, I opened the Bible and read a familiar passage, found in today’s key verse:
‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze’" (Isaiah 43:1b-2).’”
The challenges we face during this pandemic do make being a good neighbor more difficult. But it’s in times of trial that our faith can shine through the darkness more brightly than ever. Now more than ever there’s a world full of people who are looking for a savior—looking for hope—and we have the answer; He lives inside us. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” Matthew 5:16.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Alessandro Biascioli
Annette Marie Griffin is an award-winning author and speaker who has managed and directed children’s and youth programs for more than 20 years. Her debut children’s book, What Is A Family? released through Familius Publishing in 2020. Annette has also written curriculum for character growth and development of elementary-age children and has developed parent training seminars to benefit the community. Her passion is to help wanderers find home. She and her husband have five children—three who have already flown the coop and two adopted teens still roosting at home—plus two adorable grands who add immeasurable joy and laughter to the whole flock.