So…who’s your neighbor? It’s an important question to answer.
The past thirty to sixty days I’ve had conversations, have heard of conversations, seen videos, and read discussions that ultimately come down to…who’s your neighbor. Or to say it another way…who should you love. As a believer in Christ, the answer to the question of – who do you love, is easy – God and your neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40; Luke 10:27-28).
However, we seem to hit a bump in the road when we start to define neighbor. We typically put the neighbor tag on people “like us”…other Christians. But then we blame, yell at, harbor judgment, remain angry at, refuse to forgive, mock and make fun of…people who are different, we call them “the world” and justify our behavior by claiming we don’t have to love them…they aren’t our neighbor. (Something a little different on this later
in the post in another post, this one ran a little long.)
But that brings us back to who is our neighbor. The very question that the lawyer (many scholars believe he was probably a Pharisee, trained in the law of Moses) put to Jesus, as a test (Luke 10:29). Jesus’ reply is known to us as the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Before we get into Jesus’ answer …let’s take a more in-depth look at the situation.
First…I don’t have enough space here to get into all the detail…so some of this will be at a higher level.
To understand what’s going on, we need to understand the questioner. We read in verse 29 that the lawyer desired to justify himself when he asked. He was seeking confirmation that he was “okay” since he did love his neighbors – at least his definition of neighbor. The idea of a neighbor at the time was one who lived nearby, believed the same, perhaps a Pharisee but at the very minimum an Israelite (sounds familiar).
Many if not all of us have heard how hated the Samaritans were…when Jesus brought the Samaritan up, all the listeners would be expecting here’s the REAL villain, the concept of him being the hero would have angered and shocked the listeners. The Samaritans were evil, the enemy, not worth spitting on, the most despicable people around (except for lepers, Gentiles, maybe Romans…there was a lot of despicable people in the Pharisee’s world). No way they could be the hero.
I jumped to the end of the story there…lets back up and point out a couple of other things. Several of the motivations I mention below aren’t explicitly mentioned in scripture. They are conjecture based on the culture of the time, based on the positions/roles Jesus identified them with and tying it back to what Jesus overall point was in the parable.
1) The road the traveler took was known as the “Bloody Way” because of the number of thieves lying in wait to ambush anyone who wasn’t prepared. Those hearing the story probably thought the guy got what he deserved traveling such a dangerous path by himself. At best he was reckless and foolhardy.
2) The priest – He walked on by. Probably thought the traveler was dead. If the priest touched a dead guy, well he’d be unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:11). Maybe he wasn’t sure the guy was dead…but why take a chance. If he touched him, he’d lose his turn of duty at the temple, due to his unclean state. Being clean was more important than charity. Being good for the temple was more important than helping a human who was suffering.
3) The Levite – Someone who knew the law. The one that says…love your neighbor as yourself. I guess a bloodied human isn’t his neighbor. He wasn’t sure the guy was Jewish…even if he was, still didn’t make him his neighbor. Could be the Levite was afraid…a common tactic of the time was for robbers to stay close to a victim in hopes to draw in another victim (sometimes they used decoys faking to be injured). If that was motivation, then safety over caring.
4) The Samaritan – The enemy. He had compassion. He used his oil and wine in caring for the injured man, neither of those were inexpensive during the time…so shows generosity. He paid what would have been around two days wages for the innkeepers care…more generosity. He was trustworthy, and honest…the innkeeper took him at his word he’d be back and make good on the bill.
5) In verse 36, Jesus asked who the neighbor was. The lawyer replied, “the one who showed mercy.” I wonder if the poor boy choked on the word Samaritan…maybe refused to say the word…and came up with “the one who showed mercy.” No matter why the lawyer answered that way…Jesus pointed out the correctness of the answer by saying…” You go, and do likewise.”
A few conclusions from this parable…
• Even my sworn enemy is the legitimate and necessary object of my compassion.
• Everyone and anyone is my neighbor.
• Compassion and mercy are integral to eternal life.
• Our response to the points listed above and how we implement them says a lot about us as believers: If we love Jesus, then we will enjoy our neighbors, all of them, without exception. If we’re not loving our neighbors, then we have to question whether we really know Jesus at all. Steve Timmis (I Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said That)
• The kind of compassion the Samaritan shows is foolish, naïve, and reckless…and the kind we should be showing the world.
So…back to the original question. Who is your neighbor?