Do You Know Who Is Your Neighbor?

The Second Great Commandment in the Gospels

4 min

We are all prone to think of our “neighbor” in the comfortable circle of those whom we already love. It is easy to define neighbor to include our close friends at church, the next-door neighbor who watches over our house when we are away, the coworker who shares our viewpoints, and the people with whom we enjoy socializing. But what about the family on the other side of the street with the barking dog? What about the coworker who is continually gossiping about other coworkers? What about the one person who always seems to ask the wrong question at the wrong time? What about people from a different cultural background than ours? Are these our “neighbors” too?

The Lord Jesus addressed that very question in Luke Chapter 10. A lawyer had approached Jesus with a question about eternal life: “And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). The Scripture text reveals that this lawyer was asking the question with impure motives. He was “tempting” Jesus and trying to trip the Master in His talk.

If Jesus had received an honest, sincere question, He would have given an answer such as He gave to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). But this lawyer was not a sincere seeker. Instead, Jesus wanted to show the lawyer his inability to keep the whole of the Law. “He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?” (Luke 10:26).

The lawyer’s answer revealed his knowledge of Scripture and the clear, perfect requirement of God’s Law. “And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself” (Luke 10:27).

Jesus commended him for his answer and pointed him to Scripture. “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live” (Luke 10:28). The answer of the lawyer betrayed the fact that he had a different standard than God’s standard. “But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:29).

This Jewish lawyer made the same mistake that many people make today. He assumed, along with the common Jewish understanding of the day, that loving his “neighbor” embraced a friendship with others who were just like him. In the mind of the Pharisees, they were not obligated to love outcasts, such as lepers, Romans, Samaritans, barbarians, and other foreigners. By narrowing the scope of who was their neighbor, they justified their pride, bitterness, prejudice, and disgust toward those who were different from them.

It was in this context and in answer to this question that Jesus gave the famous story of the Good Samaritan. Although this story is often considered a parable, nowhere in this text does the Bible explicitly say that this was a parable. Instead, Jesus presents the story as an actual occurrence: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho . . .” (Luke 10:30).

Jesus went on to describe the events that befell this man on his journey. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was very rugged and steep. It dropped over 3,000 feet in elevation over the course of only about 18 miles. The road was notorious for highway robbers that would ambush pilgrims coming to and from Jerusalem, robbing them of their sacrifices and gifts they were bringing to the Temple. A lone traveler on this road was especially in grave danger of being attacked.

Of this certain man on this particular road, Jesus described to the lawyer how the traveler was attacked, stripped of his garments, wounded, and left “half dead” (Luke 10:30). As he lay bleeding and still beside the road, a priest came along. The priest saw the wounded man, but instead of stopping to aid him, he passed by on the other side of the road. Likewise, later a Levite came along, and he too passed by without helping the injured traveler.

Finally, a Samaritan came along. Jesus said, “When he saw him, he had compassion on him” (Luke 10:33). The Samaritan, a man who was despised by the Jews, had mercy upon the Jewish traveler. He stopped and aided the man. The Samaritan bound up the Jew’s wounds. The Samaritan placed the injured man on his donkey and brought him to a roadside inn. He not only left the hurt man there, but he also paid with his own money for the stranger’s stay. The Samaritan even offered to the innkeeper to pay anything further that was required for the injured Jew’s care.

Having told the story, Jesus asked the lawyer a pointed question: “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?” (Luke 10:36).

The lawyer had intended to trap Jesus in His teaching. Instead, he now found himself snared by his own limited understanding of who his neighbor was! He had to confess that the priest and the Levite were in error. Even so, in completing his answer, he could not quite say “the Samaritan.” Instead, the lawyer answered, “He that shewed mercy on him” (Luke 10:37).

Jesus then responded, “Go, and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:37). To tell a Jewish lawyer to go and follow the example of a Samaritan was highly offensive to pharisaical pride! Yet, the Samaritan had been obedient to the command “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” while the priest and Levite had been disobedient.

What about you? Have you ever passed by a neighbor who was in need of help? Maybe you justified yourself by saying, “I am too busy doing God’s work.” Maybe you felt like your reputation and your position put you above the need to stoop to serve. Perhaps you felt like your duties to your family and friends made it right for you to neglect someone who probably “deserved” what he had coming to him. Or maybe you simply thought that it was not your duty to help the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the Samaritan, the leper, or the sinner.

Think again! Jesus says that the person that you are not naturally inclined to love is your neighbor too. The next time you observe someone suffering and in need, remember the story of the Good Samaritan and “do thou likewise.”

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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