In Advent 2021, Tearfund ran an online “Advent Calendar” of daily reflections on the theme of neighbourliness, especially our global neighbours. Two of the contributors chose Romans 15:2 as their verse for reflection – Each of us should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up. Therein lay the inspiration for the following acrostic:
Neither the priest nor the Levite any compassion showed
Even though a fellow Jew lay maimed across the road,
In time a Samaritan – not of their ilk – passed that way,
Gave comfort, dressed his wounds, found him a place to stay;
Hospitality prevailed over centuries of bad blood.
Build up your neighbour, please them for their own good –
Old or young, rich or poor, our turning worlds collide,
Unsung acts of kindness ensure trust is multiplied,
Roads must be crossed if need calls from the other side.
It has long fascinated me that, when Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment, he delves into the depths of Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Surely it would have been more obvious to choose one (and certainly not two) of the Ten Commandments? But “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…” is from Deuteronomy 6, whilst “you shall love your neighbour as yourself” is from the middle of Leviticus 19. Jesus conjures an unexpected and surprising answer.
Another thing that puzzled me for a long time was the very nature of many of the laws given to Moses. Whilst most were directly applicable to people living in the wilderness, some clearly related to a settled people with cities, farms and vineyards. What sense would these laws make to nomadic tribes? I learned only relatively recently that they were possibly sermons by Moses in anticipation of occupying Canaan.
Amongst a settled, as opposed to a nomadic, people, neighbourliness would have posed a real challenge. Suddenly there would be boundary disputes, weeds and pests spreading from poorly tended land, envy of adjacent fields and soils, capture of groundwater, antisocial behaviour, etc etc. There would also be animosity towards foreigners in the land, yet they too were to be treated with favour (Leviticus 19: 18, 33). Remaining neighbourly would be difficult, even litigious, yet Canaan was to be a land whose population would practise kingdom values.
I am fortunate to have good neighbours. Even so, the modern idea of a good neighbour is someone who is ‘on tap, not on top’. There if you need them, but not excessively familiar or inquisitive (unless you want them to be!). The Christian idea of neighbourliness, though, goes beyond this. As noted at the outset, Romans 15:2 says Each of us should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up. Although part of a familiar passage, this verse had never really struck me until it appeared twice in the Tearfund Advent study. We regularly speak to our family and friends in ways that build them up and help reinforce their self-esteem, self-belief and happiness. I must admit, though, I hadn’t thought through the implications of Romans 15:2 about extending this practice beyond our kinship and friendship circle.
As Christians we are challenged to be neighbourly in a very positive way – perhaps as the Samaritans in our society. Not just being inoffensive, nor simply polite, nor just occasionally helpful, but actively looking for opportunities to build up the wellbeing of our local and global neighbours. Such an important idea, in fact, that Jesus redeemed it from the very depths of Leviticus.
(The Neighbour acrostic appears on my Old Testament: History, Law and Poetry page).