A while back I started to think about the fact that when Jesus Christ, arguably the most influential person in the history of the world, when He said the most important thing you can do with your life is to love God and love your neighbor, that He was actually including our next-door neighbors. And when I did, I started to see people I’d never seen before. But that had been there all along, right under my nose.
And I wonder if you’ve ever thought about what it was like for Jesus to love His neighbors – right? Or are his teachings more in our minds – these cerebral concepts with no real-life context. Have you ever wondered if He knew the people that He bumped into? If He was rooted and grounded anywhere or was He more just like this wandering vagabond. Ever wondered if He had a home, and if so, what it was like?
Well, the New Testament writers Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus left Nazareth, where He grew up, and He went and lived in Capernaum by the sea. And when He did, He came to His own city, He came home. So small-town Jesus grew up in Nazareth, but when He became an adult, although He would travel around that general region of the world doing ministry, He was based in Capernaum.
And why is that important? Why is it important to imagine where Jesus slept and woke up during the stays? It’s because Jesus wasn’t some caricature without a body. He was an actual person tied to a local place – right? Who would sleep somewhere and when He woke up in the morning He bumped into people on His way out. He shared an actual wall with actual people – actual neighbors. People like Peter, Andrew, James and John. Matthew. He’s one of the common five of the 12 disciples. And they were all neighbors from Capernaum.
And they lived in places that were just similar to modern day apartment complexes, where multiple families would share walls in three to four rooms, surrounding little outdoor courtyards. And during those days, just like you and just like me, Jesus had neighbors.
Well I want to zoom in on this a little bit, by looking at the New Testament book of Matthew 9 – kind of do a highlight reel, so to speak. And whether you’re familiar with passages like these in the Bible or not, I think it’s easy, when we read ancient texts like the Bible, to kind of disengage a little bit. But I don’t want us to do that. I want us to find common ground with Jesus. To imagine Him having the neighbor whose dog would bark all night and keep Him awake or the neighbor who’d play their music too loud through the wall or the neighbor who would never smile, never wave back. To imagine – to picture Him walking through these streets in Capernaum, in His neighborhood. That as you’re seeing people, as you’re stopping to talk to people and heal them – that these are faces He probably recognized – right? And as He’s looking out on the crowds, that He was seeing neighbors. With some of them, He maybe even shared a wall.
So there’s a theme in this chapter – it’s that Jesus sees His neighbors. Eight times Matthew uses the word “to see,” and in verse nine, it says Jesus saw a man named Matthew sitting at this tax collector’s booth. Which we know from historical context, this neighbor is on the wrong side of politics, so to speak. He’s your neighbor who’s got that other candidate’s bumper sticker on his car. He’s what I like to call a “non neighbor,” and you find yourself frustrated that you can’t choose your neighbors, because if you could you never would have chosen this guy.
What do you do when you see your non neighbor? You get kind of awkward, maybe – right? Suspicious? You get a little judgy. You try to avoid them.
What did Jesus do? Jesus invites himself over for dinner. And at that little dinner party, something happened in Matthew. Something that changed his life, that as he sat down later and reflected on it – this guy on the wrong side of all the issues – he wrote out the words about himself, “Jesus saw a man named Matthew.” Those words were about him. That would be like me sitting down to write the Gospel According to Elizabeth and saying, “Jesus saw a woman named Elizabeth.”
What would those words have meant to me? What did they mean to Matthew? Everything – right? The next verse tells us that he started to follow Jesus and his life was changed forever, so much so that we now hold the Book of Matthew in our hands. All because Jesus saw a man named Matthew, and as a result, Matthew saw a man named Jesus.
And next he introduces us to a man in the story named Jairus, and Jairus, is a leader from the local synagogue. And he’s come to Jesus, in a place of brokenness. His daughter has just passed away and he’s begging Jesus to come to his home and to heal her.
So, if Matthew was the non neighbor, who’s Jairus? Jairus this kind of our Instagram neighbor. He is that person who you see the outside, you see a version of them – that got-it-all-together version. You see them – their position, their stature. Jairus has power and influence – right? You see that – their position. But you don’t necessarily always see them as a person. Jesus sees Jairus – not just his position – but He sees him as a father. Who, behind his front door is desperately hurting and grieving. Jesus saw a man named Jairus, and Jairus as a result, saw Jesus.
Next, we meet a woman who interrupts the story. We feel this interruption because Matthew says, Jesus literally turns around and sees her. This is a woman who has been sick and bleeding for 12 years. No doubt she’s been ignored, isolated and invisible. We have these neighbors too – right? Our invisible neighbors who– they’re right around us, we can maybe make out a shadowy figure of some sort, but they’re faceless. They’re nameless. They’re anonymous. And we keep it that way by staying busy and distracted on our phones. Our invisible neighbors.
But Jesus didn’t keep it that way. He saw her and healed her. And she saw Jesus.
Matthew wraps up the chapter by telling us that Jesus is going through on all the towns and villages. He’s in their apartment complexes – right? He’s at the dinner tables. He’s neighboring, as I like to say. And at the end of the chapter he says, “Jesus looked out and He saw the crowds, and He had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
What did He see when He saw the crowds? Did He see a mob? People to get away from? A bunch of faceless nobodies? No, He saw neighbors. He saw them.
Did they look harassed and helpless? Maybe, maybe not. But He saw past their exterior into their true spiritual condition, that they were. They were, as Francis Schaeffer calls us, “glorious ruins.”
Glorious ruins, and wherever you live, whether urban, suburban or exurban, your neighbor carries with him or her at all times both a glory, and a ruin. A glory which motivates our respect and a rule which motivates our compassion. And when we forget that, we forget that our neighbors are glorious ruins, we can do one of three things. When we see only the ruin, like Matthew our non neighbor – right? When we see only ruin, we judge them. When we see only glory – Jairus – we only see their position, we envy them. But if we don’t see them at all, we just ignore them. They’re invisible to us – right?
What about you? What about your neighbors?
Do you have that non neighbor where you see only ruin, and you judge? Do you see only your differences – the things that you don’t have in common? Maybe it is ruin, but maybe sometimes there’s a perceived ruin, because frankly they just don’t look or act or think or do things the way that we do. Have you forgotten that they carry with them at all times the glory of the image of God? They’ve been created and designed with dignity. They have great worth. Sometimes it’s harder to see, it is. But the glory of the image of God, it’s there.
Or, do you see only glory and you envy them? And you see they’ve got it all together and you think they don’t need Jesus. Have you forgotten that behind their front door – so to speak – that they have real stories, real hurts, real pain? Or do you see them at all? Are they just invisible to you?
Matthew shows us a Jesus who sees all our glorious parts and all our ruined parts, and He has compassion on us. Do you know what that’s like to be seen in your glorious parts, but also your ruined parts, and had compassion on yourself? That’s what Jesus offers us.
And if you’ve experienced that from Jesus, let that impact even the smallest interactions that you have with your neighbors. So that some of them someday might stand back and say, “Wow, Jesus saw me, and now I see Jesus.”