Loving our neighbor, or just 'walking by'?

A Christian Science perspective: A deeper understanding of what it means to be a ‘neighbor’ inspires courage and love to care for others in need.

The homeless woman wearing scant clothing seemed to be suffering from hypothermia as her shivering and incoherency increased in the evening chill. I was on my way to set up a public function but stopped to offer a hoodie and stay with her while another woman hurried to phone for help. Several other people simply strode by without a glance.

It can certainly seem easier to walk past such uncomfortable situations than to deal with them. Often, praying for people in this situation has given me courage to not walk past. I’ve also been motivated to actively help by a famous spiritual lesson taught by Christ Jesus. After he pinpointed what he described as the two “great commandments” – love God wholeheartedly and love your neighbor as yourself – he was asked by a listener, “And who is my neighbor?”

The inquirer was most likely expecting a narrow definition (see Luke 10:25-37). Instead, Jesus replied with a story of two religious officials who passed by a badly injured crime victim lying on the road. The one who actually stops to help is a stranger to the community – the “good Samaritan.” In the parable, it is the “foreigner” who is the neighbor, mercifully cleansing and bandaging the man’s wounds and taking him to an inn to recuperate.

This has helped me realize that as we actively love God – including lifting our thought in prayerful communion and gratitude – we’ll more clearly see that everyone is our “neighbor,” because we are all truly created by God, Spirit. Mary Baker Eddy, the Monitor’s founder, described God as “omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Being, and His reflection is man and the universe” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” pp. 465-466). Seeing one another as God’s spiritual, loved creation brings deeper meaning to our understanding of what it means to be a good “neighbor.” And then, as Jesus urged at the conclusion of the parable, we will go and do as the good Samaritan did, treating others with mercy and care.

To return to that evening on the sidewalk, local law enforcement soon arrived and very gently gathered the woman and her few belongings. They transported her to a shelter. A community had come together to meet a need in a neighborly way.

We can all pause, pray, and seek inspiration and guidance from God on how to work together to attend to each other’s needs with kindness and love. Such loving care – both individually and internationally – does help and heal.

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