When something horrific happens in your hometown it gives you pause to wonder how safe you really are. Cleveland made international news last week with the story of the three women who had been abducted and held prisoner for 10 years in the home on the West Side of Cleveland. Like most people I’ve had the feeling of horror, amazement that the women were found, humor at the candid interview of Charles Ramsey and been left wondering- “how can this happen?” Most of all I’ve felt like the neighbors to Ariel Castro grateful that the girls were rescued and horrified that it happened.
“Charlie Czorba, a Caribe customer who lives on Seymour, said he was stunned by how long the women had lived at the house undetected.
“This is our own backyard,” he said. “These girls were locked up in our own backyard.”
It is one thing to think about bad stuff that happens “over there.” The situation here in Cleveland has forced me to consider the question- “who is my neighbor?” and “what does it mean to live as a neighbor?” Jesus was asked this same question in Luke 10:25-37 by a religious leader who wanted to make sure he was good with God and had done all the right religious things to get into heaven someday. Jesus tells him the story of the good Samaritan- someone that the Jewish teacher would have looked on in disgust, contempt and indifference, just like the religious leaders in the story Jesus tells.
There are a lot of things I do that make me feel like a good person; recycling, playing with my kids instead of checking my iPhone constantly, giving to charity. Especially for a person like me, who vocationally works for Jesus it is easy to forget about the people who live right next door to me. I can get busy serving and loving and preaching sermons, and and and…the list goes on just like it does for you no matter what your beliefs or job is. With neighbors I don’t want things to get weird or uncomfortable if I get to know them too well or God forbid- need anything from them.
This isn’t a rallying cry to start a neighborhood watch or something like that- there was a neighborhood watch in Trayvon Martin neighborhood and that turned out horrifically as well. We think we can protect ourselves from the stuff out there but as Buffy the Vampire Slayer once said pointing to her own heart-
“the Big Bad isn’t just out there, it’s in here.”
(yes, I am that big of a nerd). We want to shield ourselves from neighbor relationships because they’re inconvenient, messy and actually force us to choose if we will respond to the needs of others. Needs like someone who could use a friend to listen, a ladder to use for porch repairs, or a couple eggs to make a cake. Or needs of women who have been abducted wondering if they will ever be free from their life of torture.
Jesus invites us to respond to the needs around us every day. It’s not easy, or convienent but learning to love and serve others rarely is. That’s what life with him is like- letting him fill us with love so that we can love others when we bump up against each others weirdness, quirks and conflicts in our homes, churches and neighborhoods. In the past few months I’ve been stretched in how to care for our neighbors, and to let myself be cared for by them as well. It’s really cute that Ozzy has started to call Rodney, our retired black neighbor “hot dog” because he gave him a hot dog once when he was out grilling. He literally sees him and starts yelling and pointing “HOT DOG! HOT DOG!!” It breaks my heart when my neighbor tells me that she can’t afford groceries this month because she lost her job. Or that someone close to them was just diagnosed with HIV. What do I do about any of those things? Learn to be a neighbor. And eat a hot dog.
I’m thankful that friends who go to Scranton Road Bible Church that is just a few blocks away from where the women were found, that they’re praying for the neighborhood and actively caring for the people who live there. During all the hullabaloo my friend Joyce posted this on Facebook:
” i was reminded today by Stephanie, James, and Rachael and others why our church is in the tremont neighborhood: “The fact that the house where Amanda Berry and the other girls were held was only 0.3 miles from my church is crazy. It was right down the street. They needed God in an immense way- makes me wonder if we ever passed the men as we did our prayer walks in the neighborhoods around Scranton. What a miracle they were found.” Jesus’ response to the religious leader who asks him “who is my neighbor?” is to tell a story of caring though it is inconvenient, costly and crosses all kinds of ethnic stuff going on between the Jews and Samaritans. He tells the story and then asks the man “who do you think was the neighbor here?” The man replies- “the one who had mercy on him.” Jesus simply responds:
“Go and do likewise.”