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Who Is My Neighbor? How Jesus Calls Out Passivity

From the time I could speak, I watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. One of my first sentences was, Hi neighbor. Much of my childhood was spent visiting my neighbors on my street. I had a very concrete idea of who my neighbors were until I began to really study Scripture.

When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus answered, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

In this passage, Jesus integrates the ethical law into two basic principles. If you look at the Ten Commandments, each of the laws can be followed by abiding by the principles of loving God and loving your neighbor.

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Who Is Your Neighbor?

The importance of the command is further illustrated in Luke 10. A lawyer approaches Jesus and tests him by asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds by asking him to tell him what the law requires. After the scribe declares the two greatest commandments and Jesus tells him that if he does these then he will live, the man presses Jesus to explain the meaning of neighbor in hopes to qualify who it is he must love. Jesus utilizes a parable for clarity. The Parable of the Good Samaritan is probably one of the most famous parables of all time.

The Great Teacher carefully chooses his characters for the story. The injured man remains inconspicuous throughout the story. He is on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho and he had been injured by robbers and left for dead. Two men pass the injured man by: a priest and a Levite. Both of these men would have been revered in society at the time. When the priest sees the man, he not only does not offer help, but he passes by on the other side of the road.

The same event occurs when a Levite sees the injured man. Jesus then introduces the third sojourner as a Samaritan. To the audience, they would have assumed him to be the villain of the story. In the First Century Ancient Near East, Jews and Samaritans had a hostile relationship. Samaritans were considered cultural and religious half-breeds. According to the ancient writer Josephus, Samaritans were known for harassing Jewish travelers and placing bones in the Jewish sanctuary. Jews burned down Samaritan villages. We even see evidence of hostility in the Samaritan womans response to Jesus in John 4. Yet, in this parable, the Samaritan traveler defies all assumptions. When he sees the injured man, he stops and has pity on him.

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man giving to homeless beggar on street

Compassion That Leads to Action

The Samaritans compassion leads to action. He goes to the injured man, dresses his wounds, places the man on his own donkey, and pays for him to be tended to at an inn. These actions go far beyond what would be expected. The contrast is clear, and Jesus point is made. The Teacher asks the lawyer which of the three was the neighbor to the victim of the robbery. The lawyer responds by declaring that it was the one who showed mercy.

I have always marveled at Jesus approach to defining a neighbor. He could have simply answered the lawyers question. We see elsewhere in Scripture the command to love one another and how to respond to our enemies. But through this parable, we are able to see a different spin on love.

Here Jesus shows someone who the audience saw as despicable in a different light. He showed the Samaritan as the one who was living according to the law of love. This shattered the lawyers preconceived notions. Here was the enemy being exalted. The correct answer to Jesus question was that the neighbor was the one who showed mercy. In the story, this was the same man the audience would have hissed at when Jesus introduced him at the beginning. He has gone from hated to hero simply by a matter of perspective.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Tom Parsons

How Will You Respond to the Needs You See?

There are several parts of this story I find personally challenging.

  1. The religious elites failed to respond. Not only did they pass the injured man by, but they walked away from him. Is there someone you know who is struggling physically, emotionally, or socially that you are passing by simply because you are afraid, uncomfortable, or too busy? 
  2. The listeners learned the power of perspective by learning that the neighbor could come from an unlikely place. Is there a people group that you have any preconceived ideas about that might be inaccurate simply because you have not taken the time to understand their culture, religion, or history?
  3. The Samaritan saw the injured man, had compassion, and took action. The injured man did nothing to deserve his mercy, yet the Samaritan acted sacrificially for him. The time, physical energy, and resources it took to save an unknown man in unfathomable. 

I ask myself, if I were to place myself in the story, where would I be? Would I be a priest or Levite fleeing from a need? Would I be a listener, silently judging the characters before I know anything about them? Or would I be the Samaritan who responds when he sees a need?

We are now living in a time where we could use a lot more neighbors in the world. We need more Christians committed to showing mercy to people regardless of political views, social positions, or religious beliefs. I believe this is the message Jesus was sending to the lawyer that day. Too much hatred exists in the world and eternal life comes from loving God with everything you have, and loving others as a reflection of your love for God. Sometimes that love requires us to make sacrifices.

Maybe that sacrifice looks like holding back your opinion so that the truth of Christs love will shine through. Perhaps it is humbling yourself to help clean up a mess that you didnt make. But when I look at the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus never gave the characters names. I believe this is because we should strive to make Christs name known through our actions rather than to have our own names remembered.

As we begin to transform our thinking and expand our neighborhood, lets join together to find ways to love others. So, in the words of Mr. Rogers, Wont you be my neighbor?

Photo Credit: Getty Images/LoveTheWind


Cortney Whiting is a wife and mom of two preteens. She received her Master of Theology Degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. After serving in the church for nearly 15 years, Cortney currently teaches at a Christian school and writes for various Christian ministries. You can find her at her blog, https://recapturefaith.com.


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