Who Is My Neighbor?

good_samaritan

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ “ And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:25-29 (NKJV)

A lawyer comes up to Jesus and strikes up a conversation by asking a question. His question is what it was that he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus turned the question around and asked him what he understood the Law of Moses to teach on this. That he was a lawyer doesn’t mean that he was someone who argued cases in a court of law. Instead, it meant that he was an expert in the Law of Moses. He would be the equivalent of a modern day theologian. If anybody knew the Law, it was this man. This kind of question was right up his alley. It would give him an opportunity to show off his Biblical knowledge and maybe even put Jesus in His place.

The lawyer responds by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Deuteronomy 6:5 was essence of the Law and Leviticus 19:18 was called the great principle of the Torah. Unlike many in his day, this expert in religious law seemed to understand that what was really important was to love God all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love others as you loved yourself. His response was great because it showed that he understood that the law required internal transformation and not just external conformity.

Jesus affirms that this is the right answer and tells him that if he does this he’ll be good to go. You would think that having his answer affirmed by Jesus would have satisfied the lawyer, but it didn’t. He was determined to press Jesus further and so he asked Jesus to tell him who his neighbor was. It says the reason for this was that he wanted to justify himself. Most likely what he wanted to justify traditional interpretations of who should be considered a neighbor. You see, through the years the religious leaders had wrestled with who it was exactly that they were supposed to love as they loved themselves. They couldn’t accept that this would refer to everyone, so they had determined that there were some people that were to be classified as neighbors and some that were to be classified as non-neighbors.

First and foremost, a neighbor had to be a Jew. You didn’t have to consider Samaritans, Gentiles and other foreigners as neighbors, only fellow Jews. However even this turned out to be problematic. Surely, it couldn’t mean Jews who were living in violation of the Law, could it? They didn’t really want to love sinners. So through the years, religious leaders had determined that of course you didn’t have to consider Jews who were sinners to be your neighbor. A neighbor was narrowly defined as a Jew who lived in obedience to God’s Law. In other words, they only had to love people that were just like them. In reality, what the lawyer wanted was to justify was his racial and cultural elitism as well as his feelings of self-righteous superiority. They wanted to limit whom they had to love. They didn’t really want to love everybody as they loved themselves. So they sought for ways to put limits on which people they had to love as they loved themselves.

It is easy for us to look down on them and think how awful they were. However, are we really that different? The command to love my neighbor as I love myself is huge. If we were to be brutally honest and make a list of all the people that we loved as we loved ourselves, how big of a list would it really be? Wouldn’t it be nice to put limits on who I had to love that way? That is what they did then and unfortunately, it is what we often do today as well.

Some people may try to put racial limits on love. They can’t love someone that is Hispanic, African-American, Asian, Arabic or Caucasian.

They want to put national limits on love. They can’t love those who may be here illegally or don’t speak the same language we do.

Some try to put religious limits on love. They can’t love Muslims or atheists.

Some people try to put moral limits on love. They can’t love adulterers, homosexuals, alcoholics, or junkies.

Some may try to put other kinds of limits on love. They can’t love those that are weird, those that smell bad, those that are homeless, or those whose culture is different from their own.

The problem with these limits is that they are from man and not from God.

It is easy for us to close ourselves off from the world around us and have the mindset that says, “I’ll take care of me and mine and everyone else can take care of themselves.” The problem with this is that it is the opposite of the mindset Jesus wants us to have. How would we go about living this out in our lives today? According to what we’ve seen who would be considered our neighbor?

My spouse?

My children?

My family?

My friends?

My physical neighbors?

My co-workers?

Random strangers?

All of the above?

The answer is all of the above. One of the hardest lessons from the story of the Good Samaritan is that those in need are my neighbor. Before I can love my neighbor as I love myself, I must know that anyone in need is my neighbor.

For further study read Luke 6:27-36.

How are we to feel toward our enemies? How are we to treat them?

Who are we to help?

What is the point of verses 32-34?

What is the point of verses 35-36?

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