The question that will be asked by the lawyer in Mark 10 with the story of the Good Samaritan is a timeless one: Who is my neighbor?
And as we ask that question of ourselves, there are answers that today may be very different than they were just a few decades ago. A number of factors of the modern, technological age have changed the way we do and maintain relationships. We are able to have ongoing connectedness with people who are far from us – to do so in ways very different than the past.
I remember when I was in college and seminary – before the advent of the cell phone or computer – how different it was to communicate with my parents, as compared to how it has been for my children in those stages of life. A long distance phone call costed a good bit of money, and it was not something you flippantly did. In college, it was a Thursday night ritual that I would call home “collect” from a pay phone in the hallway of my dorm to give them a weekly update. And then, after marriage and moving to Texas for seminary, again, it was a weekly Sunday afternoon event to receive a call from them. With my children there is regular calls, texts, emails … you know the routine – very regularly, almost daily.
That is nice, but it comes also at the cost of less-connected relationships with those who are more physically our neighbors and daily associates. Technology can make us more independent, while at the same time making us more dependent. What brings us closer to people who are even halfway around the world also makes strangers of those next door.
What are some of the reasons why culture changes and how relational distance from physical neighbors happened? Social researchers point to several factors, including …
Transportation – The automobile—that is, the affordable models such as the Tin Lizzie and the Model T—caused the “Sabbath” to evolve to “Sunday.” In yesteryear, a family would attend church, then visit the grandparents for a front porch meal and time spent with family. The lack of transportation made regular travel prohibitive, so families would gather together and spend time with one another.
But after the automobile attained popularity, the family was untethered from the front porch. Now, it was no longer about a “Sabbath rest” but a “Sunday drive.” Increased mobility gave way to greater consumer choice, and the availability of transportation is taken for granted. Now we can go on extended vacations rather than spend time among our neighbors.
Communication – It was an incredible change in American life when the telephone made it possible for anyone to connect with anyone else without the need to leave their homes. The real-time nature of this technology quickly distinguished itself from prior forms such as the postal service or telegram. Now, people were available by sheer convenience.
When our office is in our pocket, we can never truly, fully be off the clock—something that has had a profound effect on our psychological view of time, but these interruptions often come at the expense of family dinners.
Occupation – Not long ago, most people essentially lived by a common workday. Go in at 8:00, hour lunch, punch out at 5:00. While this is a generalization, it is only recently that we’ve seen the ascendancy of 24-hour convenience for everything, along with the people it takes to make it happen … or the shifts required to keep production machinery running 24/7.
This has had a profound impact on our psychological view of time. In a former era, we understood the distinction between “workday” and evening. But now there is no distinction—people have individual workdays.
Architecture – In another era, people tended to sit on the porches of their homes where they would have direct—albeit chance—encounters with neighbors and passersby. But since the 1950s, home architecture has shifted from the front porch to homes with a sheer, porch-less facade and backyard patio or deck—perfect for private barbecues or family get-togethers; but one man’s intimacy becomes another man’s isolation.
Privacy soon became an American value, and even privacy fences and hedges are not at all unusual, and for many seem to be the normal thing. I remember being so struck by this when, as a young adult, I moved away from the rural life where I grew up, and the inner-city life I knew in college in downtown Philly, to the suburbs of the more modern city of Dallas – where EVERYBODY had a fenced-in backyard, mostly wooden.
There is no doubt from a myriad of Scriptures that the Lord would have us to be his witnesses to those who don’t know him. The great commission commanding us to do this starts local and goes global – Jerusalem >> Judea >> Samaria >> to the world.
So, for us to do the work we’ve been called to, we need to understand who are our neighbors in this modern age. We will look at the passage itself the next two days, and then on Thursday land with some thoughts about who is our neighbor and how do we be neighborly as Christ’s ambassadors.
Questions for Thought or Discussion:
For those of you who are older, do you agree that there have been huge categorical changes in American culture about neighbors and neighborhoods? Do you have memories that are different than the way things are now?
Have the advances in technology (particularly phones and computers that give us instant access everywhere) served to make life better or worse? How has it made ministry and outreach better or worse?