Who is my neighbor?

A challenge to the status quo.

A crowd was gathered, and Jesus was teaching. In an effort to find fault with Jesus’ doctrine, a lawyer stood up to ask a question. “Teacher,” he asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:26).

This is a good question. Many have pondered the answer. Jesus replies to the expert in the law by requesting his answer. Luke 10:27 says, “He answered, ‘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 love your neighbor as yourself.” This was a good answer to a good question.

The lawyer’s summation of the law was correct; loving one’s neighbor is a natural outgrowth of loving God, so these two commandments go hand-in-hand. Perhaps, he believed he measured up well, especially with loving God. From his viewpoint, the law expert did okay in loving his neighbor, so the conversation continued with another question.

“But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). There it is, the issue of accountability. The lawyer needed to justify his actions, so he needed a definition to know who he was accountable to love.

Perhaps we can relate; Scripture tells us to love our neighbor, but what exactly is meant by that decree? Neighbor is defined as a near person or place, so we automatically assign the title to individuals living next door, across the street, or in the adjoining apartment. We wonder if more is meant by neighbor than those with whom we have close contact.

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary points out the expert in the law had a narrow view of neighbors to mean “fellow Jews and proselytes.” Jesus redefines the term, and in doing so, challenges the lawyer’s understanding of neighbors, and ours too.

Jesus Redefines Neighbors

Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. A Jewish man was traveling and was attacked by robbers, who left the man to die. Two fellow Jews passed by and ignored the man in need, but a Samaritan came upon the scene and came to the man’s rescue. The Samaritan tended to the man’s wounds, and made sure he had what was needed to heal.

The parable forces the conclusion the Samaritan was truly the man’s neighbor. By definition, the two Jews who passed by should have acted neighborly, and the Samaritan should have passed by. The one least likely to be the neighbor acted in love.

Jesus defined neighbor as anyone with whom we come in contact, and this revolutionized the lawyer’s thinking. Samaritan’s were despised by Jews, so for the lawyer to see this man as a neighbor was hard. But a neighbor is anyone with whom we interact.

You and I interact with a variety of people. They come from all walks of life, and may not share our same political views. Yet, Jesus gives us a challenge to love our neighbor as ourselves. How well do we measure up? Do we intentionally show our neighbors love?

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