I'd been working with Chubbycheeks the Eastern chipmunk for two days at this point. Of course, we'd seen a lot of each other in the back yard during the past four years, but this was turning over a new leaf.
I cherish every opportunity to get acquainted with my wild neighbors, and to make the acquaintance with Chubbycheeks felt extra special. After all, the vast majority of wild neighbors must simply be appreciated from a distance. The best way to love most of our wild neighbors is to give them space; space that is absent from us.
Whether I'm feeding Chubbycheeks or watching distant hawks ride the wind high above, there is something special about getting to know my Wild Neighbors better.
There is a profound statement wrapped up in the term, "Wild Neighbor" and it has roots in the teaching of Jesus.
There is a moment in Jesus' ministry when a teacher of religious law asks him what’s most important. Jesus replies by stating that the most important thing is to love God with all of our faculties and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
When the teacher of religious law presses Jesus further with the question, “And who is my neighbor?”, Jesus responds with the story that we know as the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37)
It is a story of bandits who injure a Jewish traveler, two Jewish religious leaders who pass by, and a Samaritan person who stops to help the injured Jewish person.
After telling the story, Jesus asks his listener, “Who was a neighbor to the injured man?”
“The one who showed him mercy,” said the teacher of religious law.
"Mercy" is a word that can be translated to mean “love and kindness.”
By Jesus' definition, my neighbors are those to whom I extend love and kindness.
And to feel the full impact of this story we have to understand a couple of things.
- First, in Jesus’ time Jews and Samaritans wanted nothing to do with each other; because of religious and ethnic reasons they hated each other.
- Second, with his story of the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus expands the meaning of Leviticus 19:18, which is the verse quoted which says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you turn to Leviticus 19:18 you see that the full verse reads as follows, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself.”
It’s worth noting that “Jewish” and “Israelite” are interchangeable terms. In the minds of the majority of first century Jews, fellow Jews were to be treated as neighbors while others could be looked at as less than a neighbor, especially Samaritans. And Samaritans felt the same way about Jews.
This is a story that encourages us to expand the boundaries of community; to broaden the scope of who we count as a neighbor.
The best life includes all life; this statement is in keeping with the teaching of Jesus.
Each new day I ask myself, "Who is my neighbor?"
It is with great joy that I live to extend love and kindness to wildlife, wild spaces and the environment counting each as a neighbor to me.
What Wild Neighbors will you make the acquaintance with today?