Who Is My Neighbour?

‘Who is my neighbour?’That was the question asked of Jesus by a legal expert, to explain one of the great commandments: ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ What followed was the parable of the Good Samaritan, who rescued a half-dead stranger by the roadside.

But is my neighbour just today’s stranger, or does this include tomorrow’s – almost a stranger by definition? Two thousand years ago the consequences of today’s actions did not impact so significantly on tomorrow’s outcomes: how different it is now! We are beset by such challenges, whether environmental, medical, political or financial, and all the evidence shows that the present has much higher priority than the future.

Projecting accountability forwards helps to bring things more sharply into focus. For example, a business director who sacrifices future company earnings to boost short-term results during his tenure of office fails its shareholders.

A politician who refuses to ratify an environmental treaty in the interest of cheap energy today fails not only his people but quite possibly many others. A doctor who pursues a line of research in denial of its long-term risks fails humanity. A society that fails to make adequate pension provisions places an unreasonable burden of care on the next generation.

Ethics is a comfortably sounding academic term: it’s really about loving our neighbour of the future as much as we love ourselves today. In some respects many secular charities and lobbying groups are far ahead of religious bodies: for example, we’ve been warned for years of the large numbers of economic refugees who will arrive from countries such as Romania and Bulgaria, but how many churches have prepared themselves to receive them and to help them find sanctuary?

Perhaps we draw too literal a meaning from those words in the ‘Sermon on the Mount:' ‘do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.’ This teaching is about dealing with anxiety and stress, not about disregarding our responsibility for the future. When Jesus speaks of building a house on rock rather than sand, He’s focusing on the merits of good forward planning.

So as loving our neighbour is one of the two great commandments from which ‘hang all the law and the prophets’, perhaps we should be better stewards of that which is entrusted to us today, and care more about the next generation, and the world it will inherit.

Anglican Prayer
Give us, O God, the insight to see the service which is given us in the ordinary and everyday things of life, and the grace to say thanks. And help us to love all our neighbours so that we share Your word. Amen


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