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Many are familiar with the parable that Jesus taught us about the Good Samaritan. For those who wish to read this again, you can find the passage in Luke 10: 25-37.

Many will ask as to what this can mean to us in this day and age. Many will say that we should apply it in the literal sense if we see someone in trouble on the side of the road. While some will even try to say that it really has no application any more as we have government authorities (as well as some private ones) who are there to take care of people who may be in trouble.

While this latter statement/belief may be true to some point, I firmly believe that this parable has its applications to all of us today.

The Bible is quite clear in teaching us that we are, in fact, responsible for each other, no matter what the situation may be.

At a very early age we learn about responsibility towards others in the way parents look after a new born baby, nurturing, guiding and providing for that infant as they start out on their journey through life. In those very early years, the child is 100% dependant upon others, for they are unable to do anything for themselves, due to the inability that infancy brings.

As the child starts to develop, there is, generally, a gradual change in that dependancy as the child starts to be able to do things for themselves. With this gradual change comes the practical experience of learning to look after the needs of others as well. This is especially practised when there are other children within the family structure, as each child needs to learn the aspect of sharing with other members of the family and, from time to time, helping to take care of others within the family, especially in time of sickness. Sadly, the first breakdown in learning neighbourly love can occur in this very early stage of development when parents do not encourage this attitude in their children or, as sometimes occurs, do not allow it to occur, for one reason or another.

Attitudes and behaviours learnt in early childhood are generally rooted into our character for life.

By the time children start to mix on a social level, especially when schooling arrives, the horizon of neighbourhood begins to widen. No longer is our neighbour confined to our home or to the  “kids next door” but they are now interacting with other children, most of whom are outside their previous social structure. In today’s world, this can also bring children into their first encounter of racial and social differences in the ones they are mixing with. This is just another part of learning to be neighbourly.

As a person gets older then the horizons of experience generally broaden as well and people become further entwined in the process of being a neighbour. Once in the work force, many people will find themselves moving around as a part of their job and this will enable them to further encounter a whole range of different people who might possibly be deemed as a “potential” neighbour.

These experiences of growing into adulthood are a definite part of learning what it means to be someone’s neighbour.

However, learning who is your neighbour is just a small part of neighbourly relationships.

Once again, there is an element of people who believe that the parable is all about getting down to be alongside someone who is in trouble, hurt or at risk.

Again, I will say, this can certainly be a part of it. This often deters people from being a “good neighbour” (as per the parable) because of the expense that might be involved, the risk that might be involved (“what disease might I catch?”) or, worse still (especially in western society), will I risk getting sued for helping out. These are certainly real possible issues.

However there is much more to the “good neighbour thing” and I believe we encounter this in the response to Jesus’ question of “who was the neighbour to the victim?”

And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Luke 10:37

Forget the specific need of the individual in this parable, the clue lies in the fact that it was ‘he who showed mercy’. We tend to forget that some people may need a friend at a specific instant because of current feelings, circumstance or what-ever. The need is purely for a friend at that time. What is the price of a kind word, a gentle smile, an arm of comfort or a host of other similar items we can do.

I read recently, the story of one man who did not know who his father was but, because of the kindness of another in saying “he was a child of God”, this man gained personal confidence in himself and went on to do great things with his life.

What did that neighbourly good deed cost?

Just a few encouraging words in a time of difficulty for a young boy and it changed his whole life.

We need to be mindful that it is sometimes the only thing the other person needs - an encouraging word.

We just need to be aware of what others may need. We need to stop being so wrapped up in ourselves and our tiny little world that we can’t think of those around us and what they might need.

A friend from many years ago had a policy which, I think, was really great. He set out each day to simply make some other person smile. Often he achieved this by simply smiling at them first - nothing more. But, as he said, sometimes it meant a kind word or even a small joke to bring about that smile. I remembering him telling me once that the only days he had never achieved his goal were the days he didn’t go anywhere but stayed at home on his own.

Now that was what it meant to being a good neighbour. Sure, all the deeds that we associate with those in need are definitely worthy, but being a good neighbour to anyone, regardless of race, creed colour or status, can be as easy as a smile.

Well, just who is my neighbour?

I believe that the answer is very simple. It is anyone we may encounter in our day to day living, regardless of what we may think or feel about them. We know not what the thoughts and positions of most of those people might be, but our smile or gentle word can make the difference in their life, just because we treated them as a neighbour.

R.J. Burling