A Challenge to Know Our Neighbors By Eating Together

Drew Causey, Pastor of Worship and Discipleship at Hope Community Church, sent in this article and challenges us to really know who are neighbors are by eating meals together:

I have a good friend named Mike who teaches down in Australia. In class one day, he and his students were having a discussion about what it meant to be a good neighbor to those around them. One of his students told him this story:

“The other day, my wife and I came home from work and decided we wanted some Chinese take out for dinner. I offered to run and get it. I drove over to our favorite place in town, ordered, and sat down in the busy waiting area to wait for my order. As I sat, another guy came in and ordered take out as well. He looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him. We sat a few feet from one another, exchanged a polite smile, and waited for our food. Our food came out at the same time, so we got our food and headed back to our respective cars. As I drove home, I kept wondering where I knew that guy from. As I pulled into the driveway, I noticed my next door neighbor pulling in at the same time. As he got out, I realized why I recognized the guy from the Chinese restaurant: he lived next door to me. I closed the door and smiled at him again as we both headed into our homes to eat food from the same place all by ourselves. It was tragic.”

Last week, I wrote about the flooding in Louisiana, and how my parents have experienced true community in the midst of their losses in the flood. Strangers became neighbors in my parents’ time of need, and they have become neighbors to others in the same way. They had true Good Samaritan experiences, where people sacrificed to care for them when they needed it most. Jesus’ parable about the Good Samaritan emerged from a conversation where an expert in the Law asked a rather loaded question of Jesus: “Who is my neighbor?”  A question like this is one we answer every day in the way we act and interact (or don’t) with the people around us.

When Mike told me the story about his student and his neighbor, I got that gut-punch conviction that often accompanies the realization that something in your life needs to change. I would bet money I am guilty of doing this in some way with people. Guilty of the smiles and nods, knowing I have no clue as to who I am seeing and why they should be more familiar to me than they are in that moment.  And the real tragedy of that story? Once the student recognized his neighbor, the best thing he could have done would be to invite the neighbor to eat his Chinese food with him and his wife. It didn’t happen. The more I have thought about this story and the story of the Good Samaritan, the more it has shown me some things about myself that can help me become a better neighbor to those around me.

First, I am learning that I cannot be a good neighbor to people I am not willing to recognize as my neighbor. In the parable of Jesus, the man who was beaten and left for dead was passed over by both a priest and a temple worker. They clearly see the guy in the road, but they do not see him as a neighbor, as someone to whom they are connected. This is just a beaten man. He needs help, but it is not their responsibility to help him because he is not their neighbor. The student in the above story had a similar problem: the person right in front of him at the Chinese restaurant was a stranger to him because he didn’t recognize him as his neighbor. It is possible for us to see people all day and never see them as our neighbors, to not see them as people we are connected to, and who are connected to us. Perhaps this parable is Jesus’ way of waking me up to how much he loves the world, not just me or the people I choose to see.

Second, I am learning that I cannot be a good neighbor if I won’t make room in my life to be present with people. In the Good Samaritan story, the priest and the temple worker were identified as such both to highlight their righteous position in the community and the fact that they had jobs. They had things to do. They are important doers of important things in the life of the religious community. They were likely on the way to do important things, and yet they missed the person right in front of them to go and do their jobs. Why? Who knows. But I know that finding time to do anything extra in my schedule is challenging at times. I want to do lots of things, but who has time? The unrelenting demands of our schedules sometime leave us little time for anything else. I sometimes wonder if all the things I have said yes to in life often keep me from saying yes to the opportunities that often arise right in front of me to help my neighbor. Do I even see them, or am I too busy to notice, let alone help out? If being a neighbor matters, and I believe Jesus underlines that it does, then I may have to start simplifying my life to make room to be available to help and be helped by the people right around me.

So I have decided to embark on an experiment of sorts, and I am taking the cue from the student in the story above. Eating is something we all do three times a day (ok – some of us more than that, some less). That’s twenty-one meals a week. I may not have time for much else some days, but I usually find time to eat. I have decided to try to invite three people a week to join me at a meal with the goal of just being a better neighbor to them through spending that time being present with them. I cannot be a good neighbor to people I am not present with, so the first step has to be finding ways to be present with people. In this way, I see them clearly as my neighbor, and maybe they grow to see me in the same way. How might Lawrenceburg change if we decided just to eat with each other a little more often? If you’d like, join me in this challenge and let me know how it goes.

 

-Drew Causey is a husband, a father, and the Pastor of Worship and Discipleship at Hope Community Church. He married a Lawrenceburg girl (Catherine Detherage) in 2010, and together they now have three very energetic boys.

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