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 (Manna 22: Indifferent Neighbors)
Indifferent Neighbors
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Indifferent Neighbours


I RECOGNISE a similarity between the parable of The Good Samaritan and that of The Rich Man and Lazarus. The former was spoken in answer to the question, “Who is my neighbour?” The latter describes two neighbours separated by a door, with the luxury of one in stark contrast to the poverty of the other. Indeed the teaching of neighbourliness is of great significance to a Christian, to whom is enjoined the great commandment of loving God and men.

The two parables are in a way complementary, in that one focuses on leaders while the other, on ordinary believers. Caring for the brethren is a responsibility of each and every one. Therefore nobody should say he is too busy to care. The wounded man en route to Jericho was met by three people, all able to render help. This somewhat reflects our situation today, especially in church. There are needy ones among us, but there are many more of us who have the means to help. We are not in a desperate situation where our overstretched resources fill to keep up with a never-ending call for help. The problem lies with our indifference - if we do not even bother to know people well, the wounded soul next to us would not be a neighbour, but a stranger. This would be incompatible with the fact that we are of the same household, and directly conflicts with the charge: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”1

Knowing our fellow members enhances our ability to help, for many cases of genuine need are not as apparent as a physically wounded victim lying by the wayside. We are talking about an extended family of hundreds, of people different in diverse manners, who do not simply sound their woes at the top of their voices. Some are of such low profiles that their very existence is unknown to most. How then can we respond to their needs? Of course, at the grassroots, there ought to be spontaneity in mutual care and concern, but just as a firm cannot afford to have a management at the top which is detached from actual situations governing the market, the church cannot afford to have at its helm a breed of administrators who are more interested in paper than in people. The uncaring attitude of the two religious clerics - a priest and a Levite - has caused uneasiness in many an honest church leader who feels that he has not cared quite enough for the flock. He might not have bypassed anyone who he knew needed help, but regrets upon introspection, being largely passive in his pastoral care. He then seeks to be more diligent in knowing the condition of the flock,2 and to draw closer to people in the hope that they would open themselves to him. I find myself agreeing with the motto of one Christian organisation: Hearts to Goat Hands to Men. I am not too certain whether ‘out of touch’ leaders can have their hearts to God, but I am convinced that their hands cannot be to men if their bases are stuck to their seats.

It must be realised that leadership is stewardship,3 not lordship.4 Just as much as others should respect their authority, leaders should recognise their duty. Even the exercise of authority should be according to how duty prompts. To administer affairs without ministering to needs would be poor discharge of duty. Outside establishments like welfare and counselling services, religious or otherwise, can be easily accessed. It would be a shame to see children of God picking up crumbs that fall from the table of the world because their Father’s stewards are not giving them their portions at the time when they have need.5 Jesus did not spare His audience possible embarrassment when He continued the story by having a Samaritan, a despised outsider, play the genuine neighbour to the wounded man. A leadership which knows the people well and responds promptly to their needs would save itself from the embarrassment of having unbaptised truth-seekers attending to the needs of weaker baptised members whose faces are unfamiliar to the leaders themselves.

There is no short-cut to establishing relationships and communication networks in church. It involves time and sacrifice, besides being sensitive, sincere, helpful and genuinely concerned. Caring actions are not manufactured in a factory. The church certainly requires more than standardised care given at births, weddings and deaths. Cards, gifts and wreaths do not have a heart, only humans do. It is important to consciously take note as to who have been missing from services. It is necessary to regularly check if everything is fine with our members’ families, careers, or studies and to see that these areas do not affect their spiritual lives. The old and the illiterate ought to receive proper spiritual nourishment. Newly baptised converts ought to receive proper follow-up. We ought to be personal. We ought to care for people as individuals, not just familiar faces with unfamiliar names.

Turning our focus to the general congregation, the efforts of the leaders must be replicated before a church-wide atmosphere of familial love can be generated. Moses was a good leader, but with a multitude of uncooperative people, there was little he could do. People that make up the congregation must reflect the warm, caring ways of the leadership in order to dispel the callous, indifferent disposition that may exist. God causes the rich and the poor to co-exist.6 One may not need to look beyond his local church to find poor neighbours, and our Christian duty does not allow us to dress in purple while some brethren are in rags, or to feast in luxury while they desire of our crumbs. True religion is “to visit orphans and widows in their afflication.”7

How about the spiritually impoverished? Are we concerned for the salvation of others? Christ abandoned His glory as God in heaven to look into our eternal interests. The Bible exhorts us to have this mind of Christ in looking “not only to (our) own interests, but also to the interests of others”.8 Our imitation of God should be “as beloved children”9 imitating the Father. As the Father is the Sun of righteousness10 that shines on us all, we are lamps that brighten the house where we11. As the Father is the rain that nourishes our souls,12 we can give a cup of cold water to a thirsty one.13 The Bible promises: “he who waters will himself be watered”.14 On the other hand, the Bible proclaims woe on those indifferent ones “who are at ease in Zion”, those “who lie upon beds of ivory and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the midst of the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp” but are not grieved over the misery of their brethren.15 What a contrast these couch-lying, idle-singing people make with the sleeping Christ in the stem! One fell into slumber due to fatigue, who had no proper place to lay His head;16 the other lay upon beds of comfort to pamper their idle bones. When duty calls, the idle ones remain indifferent. Yet Christ’s well-deserved rest was disturbed by His faithless companions who roused Him with the rude remark, “Do you not care if we perish?”17 But we are the ones who do not care even though our Saviour labours on today. He says, “My Father is working still, and I am working.”18

One final word: If anyone sees his brethren in need and yet closes his heart against him, God’s love does not dwell in him.19 And as for him who has not seen his brother’s needs, may this article open his eyes.


1.Galatians 6:10

2.Proverbs 27:23

3.1 Corinthians 4:5; Luke 12:42

4.1 Peter 5:3

5.Luke 12:42

6.Proverbs 22:2

7.James 1:27; cf 2:15-16

8.Philippians 2:4

9.Ephesians 5:1

10.Malachi 4:2

11.Matthew 5:15

12.Hosea 6:3

13.Matthew 10:42

14.Proverbs 11:25

15.Amos 6:1, 4-6

16.Matthew 8:20

17.Mark 4:38

18.John 5:17

19.1 John 3:17

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Author: Shee Tse Loong