Who Is My Neighbor?

Have you ever stopped to think that the way you see people determines how you treat people? Be honest. When you notice a homeless man standing on the median at a stoplight holding up a sign, what do you see? When you notice a woman stepping out of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class Sedan wearing elegant clothing accented with a dashing pearl necklace, what do you see?

Okay. I’ll be honest. I try not to look at the homeless man holding the sign. And when I notice a person of wealth, I see a person with a lot of stress. What am I doing in both scenarios? Judging. And in my judging I am distancing myself from my responsibility to love my neighbor as myself.

C. S. Lewis opened my eyes recently in his sermon, The Weight of Glory, which he preached in the Oxford University Church of St. Mary the Virgin on June 8, 1941. In it he describes how “glory” is not only something we receive; it is something we share. In Christ we receive His glory—brightness, splendor, luminosity. But in that reception, we also bear a weight, or responsibility, for our neighbor’s glory.

This is why we must change how we see people. We see them not based on their outward appearance but on their immortality. Lewis writes, 

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. . . . There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. . . . It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours (The Weight of Glory, 45-46).

Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” And He answered with a story about a man who was in need. The Samaritan saw the immortality in the mortal body of the man robbed, beaten and left for dead (Luke 10:25-37). 

The next time you notice a pauper or a princess, see that person as your neighbor who, as C. S. Lewis says, “is the holiest object presented to your senses” (idem.). Don’t think so much of your own potential glory hereafter that you fail to bear the weight of your neighbor’s glory. 

Speak kindly. Act graciously. Love generously. For your neighbor is no mere mortal, but one who also “may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10). And that is the glory worth sharing.