Two of the most special people Bernice [Lee, my wife] and I have gotten to know recently are Abraham and Cheng Yu, who had been called by God to feed the homeless. We were so inspired by their ministry.
It may come as a surprise to some of us that there are homeless in Singapore, and that they have basic needs like that of food. One study puts the number of homeless in Singapore at around 1,000.1 How should followers of Jesus respond to those who are homeless?
The truth is that, in times of crisis, like the present COVID-19 pandemic, we tend to look inwards. This is understandable since we need to comprehend what is happening and survive the crisis. Still, God’s command remains: that we love our neighbour as ourselves. In fact, times of crisis are when followers of a Messiah who saved through the Cross show their “true colours”.
The significance of loving your neighbour
Most of us have heard the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25–37), possibly so many times it may be overfamiliar. We forget what is at stake here—the question of how one inherits eternal life, which is life in God’s Kingdom. We know that we are saved by grace and we can’t earn our salvation by good works. But the gospels are also clear that we know a tree by its fruits (Matt 7:15–20). The implication is that the two go together: one cannot claim to love God if one does not also love one’s neighbour.
Jesus is also teaching other lessons through this parable. That He makes a Samaritan the hero of the story is scandalous. Jesus’ audience would have been Jewish, and the Jews in His time looked down on Samaritans as a second-class race. By making the Samaritan the hero, Jesus is saying that race is not what defines a person—what is important is that a person loves both God and neighbour.
Furthermore, if the victim were a Jew, it meant that the Samaritan was helping someone from a race that had deemed him second-class all his life. To love our neighbour as defined by Jesus means we may have to care for people who have hurt us, and to love people that we might find difficult to love.
Finally, we see Jesus turning the law expert’s question on its head. The expert had asked, “Who is my neighbour?” Who deserves to be loved? Jesus ignores the question but instead asks, “Who is a neighbour?” If you love your neighbour as yourself, you don’t ask who your neighbour is, i.e. who qualifies for my help. Instead, you extend help to whomever you can.
Who are our neighbours?
It is still useful to note who our neighbours are—if anything, just to keep us honest. And in light of recent events, we need to remind ourselves that God’s heart is for folks of all races and from all strata of society:
- Geographical neighbours: people who live next door/ nearby;
- Relational neighbours: people who are in your network, e.g. family, friends, colleagues, classmates etc., but who may not live nearby;
- Special neighbours: for example the homeless, foreign students/workers who are far from home and family, the poor, those who struggle with special needs, etc. We need to open our eyes to see those in Singapore who need the neighbourly touch of God through us.
None of us can do it all. But all of us can do something.
Immediately following the story of the Good Samaritan is the account of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38–42), which I believe teaches us to listen to the Lord and ascertain what He wants us to do before embarking on activism that ironically may make us upset with others and with the Lord.
The “art of neighbouring”
Being a good neighbour is something that we do, not just something that we feel or even know. At least three times in the Good Samaritan story, we are told to “do” loving God and loving our neighbour.2 How do we know which people in Singapore belong to the Lord? They are the ones reaching out to their neighbours.
One evening, Bernice and I had the privilege of hosting a group of Abraham and Cheng Yu’s homeless friends for dinner. It was a very special evening. We made new friends and learnt so much from them. We saw how they looked out for each other and how grateful they were for the most basic of provisions. We have since met some of them again, and also some of their friends. As is often the case, those who bless others are themselves blessed.
We are living in challenging times. These are the times when followers of Jesus can reveal the welcoming heart of God by being neighbourly, and by loving our neighbours.
1 “Panel to shed light on plight of the homeless in Singapore,” Straits Times, 18 Mar 2020, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/panel-to-shed-light-on-plight-of-homeless-in-singapore
2 A good resource on how to love one’s neighbour is Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon’s, The Art of Neighboring (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012).
The Rev Dr Tan Soo Inn is the Director of Graceworks, a ministry committed to promoting spiritual friendship in church and society.