By Maria Goff
Neighborhoods come in all different shapes and sizes.
I’ve never been to the International Space Station, but I’ve stayed in a Kibbutz community not far from the Dead Sea in Israel and have seen how the people there live in a collective community with one another.
The Kibbutz is located near the lowest spot on the earth. The Space Station is located at the highest point above it.
The Kibbutz isn’t filled with people who are identical, the Space Station isn’t filled with astronauts who are the same, and your neighborhood isn’t either.
We all want the same things in life—love, purpose, and connection. It’s that simple and that hard at the same time.
When a lawyer asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, Jesus told him it was to love God with all of his heart and soul and mind and to love his neighbors.
This means the ones living just outside our doors and the ones inside our homes too. The ones at the bottom of the earth and the ones orbiting it and everyone in between.
Loving our neighbors means loving everyone. Instead of getting stuck figuring out who and where my neighbors really are, I decided to just love the people who live the closest to me.
This isn’t always easy. The hometown crowd can be tough. Jesus’ neighbors probably thought He was better at making wooden picture frames than making bread and fish out of nothing.
This isn’t a reason to not start with the ones who don’t think we’re anything special. It’s probably why Jesus said to start with these people.
The Bible says a prophet is not without honor except in his own neighborhood, with his own relatives, and in his own household.
I’m no prophet, but I know what it feels like to be misunderstood by the people I’m always around. You do too.
I think the reason for this is simple. They know all about our little peccadilloes, our faults, or our typicalness. It’s the very reason Jesus said to start there, because it’s the place where we could practice keeping it real.
I get amazed pretty easy. I think an oatmeal cookie is amazing. Bob picked some flowers for me and I thought they were amazing too.
I got stuck in a line trying to get a new driver’s license, and I was amazed at how long it took.
Yet, the Bible says there are only two times where Jesus was amazed. One happened in His neighborhood.
He had returned to His hometown to preach in the synagogue and He was met with more than a little resistance. I can hear them saying,
“Wait, isn’t that Mary and Joe’s kid?” “That guy? Isn’t He just a carpenter?” “What’s He doing preaching in the synagogue?”
I bet Jesus wasn’t surprised by this, but He did say He was amazed by it. Jesus said He was amazed by how little His neighbors believed.
It’s hard for all of us to see the familiar as holy. That’s probably why Jesus decided He’d start everything He would eventually do in the world right in His own neighborhood where He was most familiar.
He didn’t start with a speech or a Bible study; He started with a party.
The only other time Jesus said He was amazed was when a soldier said all Jesus needed to do was say the word and his servant would be healed.
Jesus was amazed at the soldier’s belief. I want to be a little more like the soldier in my neighborhood.
I want to believe that if Jesus just said the word, incredible, inexplicable things would happen in the lives of the people who live near me. And you know what? He said the word.
He said if we’d love our neighbors, it was one of the most important things we could do with Him.
Sure, Jesus’ neighbors were people who knew Him well, but just as important, Jesus knew them well too.
I imagine He could spot the nutty neighbors down the path. He could have questioned their character or the work they did, but this wasn’t how Jesus lived.
Much like He did with Peter, I bet Jesus saw the holiness in the ones around Him rather than their shortcomings. He saw things in them that they perhaps didn’t even see in themselves.
He wanted His neighbors to be amazed by God’s greatness and He used His familiarity among them to do it. We can too.
We can’t be well known by everybody, but we can be more fully known by our neighbors. Practice keeping it real where you live and you’ll make Jesus real in people’s lives.
Our neighbors aren’t our projects and we’re not theirs. I’ve learned most of what I know about loving my neighbors by being on the receiving end of the kind of love Jesus talked about from them.
When I was in elementary school, a neighbor invited me to go to church with them for the first time. I felt included and it made me feel loved.
In college, when my friend in the next dorm room asked me to join her for the weekend to visit family, I felt invited and it made me feel loved.
I rented a guesthouse during college, and the owners of the main home welcomed me over for dinner and it made me feel loved.
And when we moved into our house and the neighborhood women gathered for a tea party, I felt celebrated and it made me feel loved.
Invite, include, welcome, and celebrate the people around you and you’ll be doing exactly what Jesus was talking about.
There are thirty-seven houses in our two-block neighborhood. I could tell you who lives in every one. We don’t pick our neighbors, we just get them.
I think God made it that way on purpose so we wouldn’t get to choose. No one really moves out of our neighborhood, they just change the house they live in or go to heaven.
We’ve moved three times on the same block. I’m not kidding. We’re not the only ones either. More than a dozen of our neighbors have done the same thing. It’s bizarre, but I think I understand why.
The people here love their neighborhood, so nobody really wants to leave. It’s the next-to-last resting place for a lot of neighbors here. Lord willing, it will be mine too.
The people who live near us are interesting folks. I bet yours are too. Go meet them.
One of our neighbors evidently invented the colored ink for ballpoint pens. Another was a Navy Admiral who commanded the Pacific Fleet during one of our biggest wars.
A famous R&B singer who sold more than one hundred million albums called our neighborhood home until he passed away.
Because I knew the people who were my neighbors, I started liking ballpoint pens (with green ink), Navy ships, and rhythm and blues. You’ll be the same way.
You’ll like the things that interest your neighbors, if your neighbors interest you enough to love them. Go ahead and risk it, then stand back and watch what happens to your heart.
Excerpted from Love Lives Here: Finding What You Need in a World Telling You What You Want. Used by permission of B&H Publishing.
MARIA GOFF (@SweetMariaGoff) is a speaker and writer who has made a career of loving her family and neighbors, raising her children, and turning houses into homes. She is the wife of best-selling author Bob Goff and author of Love Lives Here.