“And who is my neighbor?”

Yesterday I was talking with a nursing teacher who is an expert in the care of women with childbirth injuries called fistulas. SIM has a hospital caring for these women in rural Niger, West Africa. She is considering ways to get involved helping train our national staff. The hospital treats any woman in need, regardless of their race, religion or creed. Someone made a comment that there is a widely held belief that Christian mission hospitals only treat Christians. Nothing could be farther from the truth!

During Jesus time a Jewish lawyer came to test him, asking “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Luke 10:25-26. Jesus had him summarize the entire law of Moses by saying “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as  yourself.” Luke records the lawyer’s response: “But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?'”

The answer is somewhat surprising, and gets to the heart of our motivation for cross-cultural mission work. Who is my neighbor? And how do I love my neighbor as myself? We must listen to the response of Jesus. He tells us the story that we now call the “Good Samaritan.”  See Luke 10:30-37

Tim Keller helps us to unpack Jesus’ lesson in his book, “Generous Justice — How God’s Grace Makes Us Just.” He says, “In other words, the law expert wanted to whittle down the command to make it more achievable, and to keep his works-righteousness approach to life intact. ‘Surely,’ he implied, ‘you don’t mean I have to love and meet the needs of everyone!'”

“In response, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. A Jewish man was riding through a mountainous, remote area where he was robbed, beaten, and left in the road ‘half dead’ (Luke 10:30). Along came first a priest and then a Levite, one of the temple workers who assisted the priests. These were both people who should have stopped to give aid, because the Jew was their brother in the faith. However, they ‘pass by on the other side,’ possibly because it would have been extremely dangerous to stop on a desolate road in a region infested with highwaymen.”

Keller continues, “Then a Samaritan came along the road. Samaritans and Jews were the bitterest of enemies. Samaritans were seen by Jews as racial ‘half-breeds’ and religious heretics, and so there was great animosity between them. Yet when the Samaritan saw the man in the road, he was moved with compassion. He braved the danger by stopping, giving him emergency medical aid, and then transporting him to an inn. He then paid the innkeeper and charged him to care for the man until he had fully recuperated. That would have been a substantial expense.”

“What was Jesus doing with this story? He was giving a radical answer to the question, ‘What does it mean to love your neighbor? What is the definition of love?’ Jesus answered that by depicting a man meeting material, physical, and economic needs through deeds. Caring for people’s material and economic needs is not an option for Jesus. He refused to allow the law expert to limit the implications of this command to love. He said it meant being sacrificially involved with the vulnerable, just as the Samaritan risked his life by stopping by the road.”

“But Jesus refuses to let us limit not only how we love, but who we love. It is typical for us to think of our neighbors as people of the same social class and means (cf Luke 14:12). We instinctively tend to limit for whom we exert ourselves. We do it for people like us, and for people whom we like. Jesus will have none of that. By depicting a Samaritan helping a Jew, Jesus could not have found a more forceful way to say that anyone at all in need — regardless of race, politics, class, and religion, is your neighbor. Not everyone is your brother or sister in the faith, but everyone is your neighbor.

Well said, Tim Keller. Thank you, Jesus. Friend, who is your neighbor?

2 thoughts on ““And who is my neighbor?””

  1. Wonderful thoughts, but wait a sec–I thought Jesus said ‘the good Samaritan is the neighbor.’ (thus we ought to love him)… If we read the verse carefully, we read the lawyer asking “Who is my neighbor?” and Jesus effectively replying, “The Samaritan who does good to people.”

    In short: I could be wrong, but isn’t the point of the passage to love Samaritans who have love in their hearts? I don’t think the main point of this particular passage is “everyone is my neighbor.”

    All the best,

    -Beau

  2. Yes, I think the point of the passage is to love those who are in need, regardless of their social or ethnic status. The lawyer needed to hear this. The Samaritan was a good example of someone who understood who his neighbor was – despite the fact that socially he was looked down upon by Jews. Wow, a great lesson for me (not to just see those who are like me, but to look for those who are downtrodden and come alongside them).

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