Stranger or Neighbor?
Julie Ann Miller
One cold snowy morning in mid-April I got out of my car at the grocery store. An elderly woman, perhaps in her 80’s, got out of the car next to me. She looked at me and smiled, I returned the smile and greeted her. Instantly, her
smile broadened and she started chatting about the weather, she must have been a true Minnesotan since she saw nothing unusual about snow on April 16. The date was significant to me since it was the date of my great-grandmother’s birthday and she had been in my thoughts and prayers that morning. Right before we parted at the grocery door the woman mentioned it was her birthday on the Friday of that week… what a coincidence! At that moment I was so glad I had taken the time to visit with this woman in the parking lot.
As I walked into the grocery store the little boy I was babysitting asked me why I was talking to the “old lady.” I explained that she smiled at me and we started a conversation. My explanation seemed sufficient for a four-year- old.
About a week later I had a similar question from my ten-year-old daughter.
I had been out pumping gas and was buckling up my seatbelt when my daughter asked me, “Mom, why were you talking to that man?” The gentleman and I had been discussing yet another cold snowy morning in late April. As I explained to my daughter that we were just talking about the weather and laughing about the snow she stated, “But he is a stranger.”
During the short drive to school I stated, “We can be kind and friendly to those we do not know. Do you remember the verses from the Gospel of Matthew? The ones when Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink…” As I started the verses my daughter finished them for me and together we ended with, “…as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” These verses had been our Church School theme about two years ago, so I was impressed that she still remembered them! I reminded my daughter that talking to a stranger is another way of fulfilling the command by Christ.
Just a few nights after the gas station discussion my daughter made another statement while driving down our street on the way home. Sophia stated, “Mom, all these homes are on our street but we don’t know any of the people that live in them. We only know the few people right around our house.” How right she was. We know those that live on our block but not on the entire street. It was shortly after this comment that I was asked to write an article with the theme Who is My Neighbor?
All these experiences have made me think about the question, who is my neighbor? We teach young children that our neighbor is someone who lives next door or across the street. Eventually we might stretch the concept to those we might meet in a grocery store parking lot or at the gas station. But if we read from Luke 10: 25 – 28 we could expand the definition of neighbor even further. We are told in order to inherit the kingdom of heaven we are to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength and with all our mind, and to love our neighbor as our self. What we must then do is define self. God created each of us in his image and likeness. Self then is the image and likeness of God which then means that our neighbor is any one made in the image and likeness of God. Thus neighbor is ANY person!
The dictionary offers these definitions of neighbor:
- a person living near or next door to the speaker or person referred to
- a person or place in relation to others near or next to it
- any person in need of one’s help or kindness
Even the dictionary supports the idea that neighbor is ANY person. Which brings me to a new observation: this definition would mean those living at home with me… husband, son, daughter, or my parents, siblings, and in- laws are my neighbors. It would also mean visitors to our church are neighbors. Yet often times it seems easier to treat strangers in a friendly neighborly way than our own family members. As a member of a large church with many members I am still surprised at the number of parishioners I have yet to meet, let alone say hello to visitors on a Sunday morning.
When the lawyer in Luke 10:29 asks Christ, “Who is my neighbor?” Christ responds with the story of the Good Samaritan. This too should be our response to Who is my neighbor. We should be able to offer help, a listening ear, a kind greeting or a warm smile to ANY person we come in contact with. Which would mean an elderly lady in the grocery parking lot. a man at the gas pump, the person we pass down our street, a spouse, children, family member, parishioner or visitor. In theory it seems so easy to be neighborly but in reality when I am running late on a Monday morning and trying to rush the family out the door and get stuck in traffic my neighborly skills are most likely lacking. I hope and pray that I am given many opportunities to model neighborly behaviors to my children so that the next time I am speaking to a stranger my daughter makes the statement, “Mom, it is good that you were neighborly to that person.”