It’s true that when Jesus commands us to love our neighbor in Luke 10, He defines neighbor as “anyone near you who needs you.” But you and I pass a whole lot of “anyones” every single day and many of them have needs. Since we can’t meet all their needs, most of us meet none of their needs. Especially when the people around us don’t seem to have obvious needs like the unconscious guy laying by the side of the road in the Good Samaritan story. Dave Runyon, says it this way, “When we aim for everything, we hit nothing.”
If we’re not careful, we turn Jesus’ command into a philosophy that sounds good, but that we have absolutely zero intention (or ability) of actually obeying… the exact opposite of the attitude Jesus was arguing for in telling the Good Samaritan story.
Maybe we need a baby step. Enter the Block Map.
We learned about this from Dave Runyon (if you’re interested in neighboring, his book “The Art of Neighboring” is the absolute best place we know of to start).
It’s awfully hard to love someone if you don’t know their name, so begin there. Think about the 8 actual neighbors who live closest to you and make it your goal to write down all their names on your block map. That may mean an awkward “Hey, we’ve been living here 12 years and haven’t ever met” conversation, but that’s okay. If you think about it, a situation like that is awkward whether you name it or not!
As you go along, you can add relevant information about their family, occupations, hometowns, or hobbies that may help you keep from asking the same small-talk questions over and over. Post the map somewhere obvious so you see it and remember who you can pray for and who you need to meet.
Most people, when they start, can only name every person in one or two of the eight neighboring houses. The first time we did this as a church around 5 years ago less than 1% of our congregation could name 4 of the 8. Today, after quizzing ourselves and challenging ourselves every few months, a significant majority of us know the names of all the people living near us.
That doesn’t mean we’re anywhere close to being perfect at loving our neighbors, but at least now if one of the people who actually live near us needs us, we’ll be able to call them by their first name. And when we read Jesus’ command to love our neighbor, our neighbor has a name and a face.