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Everybody needs good neighbours – don’t they?

Monica and I have recently been through the process of deciding where to live in Canberra. We discovered all sorts of resources designed to help us make that choice. Go online and you can find the socio-economic score of a neighbourhood, compare its crime statistics with nearby suburbs and see how real estate prices have appreciated or not. You can check out reviews of local cafes and calculate the travelling time from there to your place of work.

However, the most remarkable part of that whole process is that we had and have that choice at all, because for most people living at most places in most times neighbourhood wasn’t something you chose. It was chosen for you, according to the vagaries of birth and history and economics. But for those of us who live relatively affluent lives in contemporary Australia neighbouring is about the decisions we make. So even as we think about being a good neighbour the cards are already stacked in our favour, because we have neighbourhood on our own terms amongst ‘our’ kind of people.

In Luke 10:25-37 Jesus tells a well-known story about being a neighbour. It concerns three travellers who see a person in desperate need lying half-dead beside the road. Two of them, both religious leaders, see enough to cross over to the other side and remain uninvolved. The third, who is a religious outsider, sees and is moved to act with mercy and compassion. What might seem like a chance encounter is embraced as an opportunity to engage the world in a manner that reflects the character of Jesus Himself. Neighbouring here is living well amongst people who are not like us in circumstances we have not chosen. It is to see the world as God does – with a deep awareness of its needs and an open-ness to mercy and compassion.

What might it mean for us to be a people who see what matters to God?

Since moving to Canberra Monica and I have noticed a number of changes since we last lived here a quarter of a century ago. New suburbs have carpeted districts we remember as paddocks. The city has a light rail system. There is more high-rise development. The population is more culturally diverse.

However, one of the biggest changes we both noticed almost immediately: we see a lot more homeless people. Like the
characters in Jesus’ parable we must decide what to do with that sight. Will we cross over the road and retreat into neighbourhood on our terms? Or will we seek to be the neighbours God is calling us to be and be open to responding with mercy and compassion?

Our world desperately needs good neighbours. My hope and prayer is that as a Diocese we might see the world as God does and feel and act in the Spirit of Jesus.

By Bishop Mark Short