Do you remember who asked the question, "Who is my neighbor?" It was a lawyer who came to Jesus asking what to do to inherit eternal life. He was told (among other things) that according to the Torah, he must love his neighbor as himself. Seeking to justify himself, he asked that cogent question.
Jesus answered by giving the well known parable of "The Good Samaritan." I don't need to rehearse that story. You can read (or re-read) it for yourself in the gospel of Luke, chapter 10. The point of the story is:
My neighbor is anyone that I am able to help.
Particularly during our recent great tsunami catastrophe, I have pondered this concept of "neighbor" and "helping" in the modern day. In Jesus' time, or even 100 years ago, a neighbor was basically the original meaning of our English word, "a nearby farmer." The Greek word used in the text meant one "near or in contact with". The Hebrew verse quoted by Jesus meant "friend, companion, neighbor."
Today, we have global sight, sound, and contact through television, and more significantly, the world-wide web on the internet. Our neighbor now is everyone. We can help our neighbors around the world. We can go to a website and instantly donate money through our credit cards to help our neighbors in need.
We have only to recognize that almsgiving is fundamental to virtually every religion. It is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is instilled into every Jewish child as one of the important mitzvoth. In Christianity it is often emphasized through tithing to or through the church, not necessarily through personal almsgiving.
Much as I deplore the rubric "What would Jesus do?", I think in this case He would emphasize that giving to the needy, near and far, by every means possible, is the Christian duty. There are ample texts to support this. After all, this is a restatement of the Golden Rule, "Do to others what you would have them do to you."
It is heartening to me to see the worldwide support of victims of both natural and manmade disasters, examples of truly eleemosynary deeds. I hope that we will continue to think of the world as our "neighbor."
February 4, 2005