My neighborhood feels larger than it did three months ago. We still have the same number of houses, and the streets are still configured in the same way, but the neighborhood just feels larger.
As a result of this pandemic, I have spent more time in my neighborhood. We have been eating dinner on our front porch, which has given us a better sense of the people who live near us and of the people who walk their dogs on our street. I have been exercising in the city park down the road, and it has come to feel like an extension of our home; I have gotten to know the people who go there on a schedule similar to mine.
The role that my neighborhood plays in my life has also changed. It is no longer simply the place from which I commute, but the place that I live. This is my place, and these are my people.
In Genesis 4, Adam’s son Cain kills his brother Abel. When God asks where Abel has gone, Cain famously replies: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” God’s implied answer is, “Yes.” And, lest there be any doubt, Jesus returns to the theme when he issues his second great commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Too often, we define the words “neighbor” and “brother” narrowly, as the people who are closest to us in one way or another. Jesus wants more from us than that. For followers of Christ, every other human being is our neighbor, our brother. We are all each other’s people. We are all each other’s keepers.
Dr. King puts it this way in his Letter from Birmingham City Jail: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
The pandemic has reminded me that my neighborhood is a lot larger than I usually understand it to be, and that it includes a lot more people. Who are the neighbors that we haven’t seen recently? Who are the neighbors we have overlooked?