Your Neighbour’s Ox

“You shall not see your countryman’s ox or his sheep and pay no attention to them: you shall certainly bring them back to your countryman.”


I’ve been doing some reading in Deuteronomy lately and rediscovering how much wisdom there is in it for citizens of the Kingdom of God. The above quote from 22:1 points us to our responsibility to our neighbour. This is a responsibility not just to do no harm (that is not to steal, libel, or kill), but to do good! This is a clarion call to positively love my neighbour.

How my neighbour’s ox got loose is not in question. I suspect that behind every loose ox is some dereliction or negligence by either my neighbour or someone else. My call is not to judge the silliness or neglect of my neighbour or to say that he is getting his just desserts. My call is to be positively involved and thus bless and benefit my neighbour.

I meet people all the time who, metaphorically, have lost their ox (that which was theirs by right and was meant to bless and enrich their lives). Each one has their own story and there is enough negligence and dereliction to go around. Some might say of my friends and me that we are authors of our own misfortune and to a significant degree they would be right. But they would not be, at all, helpful. They would be missing the 22:1 principle. We are called to “let mercy triumph over judgement”. We are called to be actively and positively involved in our neighbours’ lives.

Scripture does not advocate an enabling or infantilizing of our neighbour. This would be to do harm rather than to act positively! Scripture does advocate that we ‘love’ our neighbour not in a warm fuzzy emotional way (though go ahead with that if you can muster it) but in a positive and enabling way.

A society, which ignores the poor and broken, runs afoul with the word of God and runs contrary to the very heart of God. This may at first blush seem like an onerous lifestyle but, in God’s design “it is in blessing that we ourselves find blessing” (thanks Wenceslas). The abundant life is the life extravagantly poured out for God and others.

I do not often write about my work with Community Chaplaincy because much of my work must remain confidential but yesterday we hosted a forum “The Care and Re-Integration of Women”. We had 21 participants and engaged in an invigorating and passionate discussion about the issues faced by women as they are released. It was wonderful to have such a group of folks who were caring so passionately for their neighbour. We concluded the day with a commitment to meet again in about a month’s time to discuss the specific idea of developing a “Social Enterprise”. A social enterprise is a business with at least two bottom lines 1) profit, and 2) the empowerment of those engaged in it (often a benefit to the community would be an addition ‘bottom line’). I was heartened by the commitment and enthusiasm in the room and look forward to future developments as we strive together according to the 22:1 principle.




2 comments on “Your Neighbour’s Ox

  1. Similarly, the norm that Christians should walk according to the Spirit (see Gal 5.16) is in practice equivalent to the normative requirement of Christian love, since the Spirit transforms Christian moral life by communicating divine love. Likewise, the norm of Christian love is not something separate from Jesus in his concrete totality (see LG 42). Love disposes one to that good which will be accomplished in the fulfillment of all things in Jesus.

  2. With these words Hillel recognized as the fundamental principle of the Jewish moral law the biblical precept of brotherly love (Lev. xix. 18). Almost the same thing was taught by Paul , a [former] pupil of Gamaliel , the grandson of Hillel (Gal. v. 14; comp. Rom. xiii. 8); and more broadly by Jesus when he declared the love of one’s neighbour to be the second commandment beside the love of God, the first (Matt. xxii. 39; Mark xii. 31; Luke x. 27).

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