Which Neighbour Am I to Love?

The second greatest command is to love our neighbour as ourself.

“Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in the Law? Jesus declared, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.” Matthew 22:36-39

The idea of loving our neighbour was quite challenging to the Jews, even though they knew this commandment from the Old Testament writings.

“You are not to avenge, or bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you are to love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:18

This command is a challenge to our selfishness. We are instinctively inclined to serve ourselves before others and think of ourselves above others. So to treat these ‘others’ as we would rather be treating ourself collides directly with our selfishness.

Indicating the challenging nature of this command to those of Jesus’ day note that one of the religious people, an expert of the law, asked for clarification as to who to treat as ‘neighbour’. It seems the religious people were looking for some kind of limitation on who would be regarded as a neighbour. Obviously it was a wider circle than family, but should it include those we don’t know, or who are foreigners to us? The expert in the law wanted to justify himself, we are told. Maybe he wanted to validate his own interpretation limiting the application of this command.

“But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, And who is my neighbour?” Luke 10:29

Jesus answered by telling of the Good Samaritan. Note that God often communicates truth in a broader way than just by giving a list. This account of a man being assisted conveys more than might meet the eye at first glance.

Jesus tells of a man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho. It probably doesn’t matter where the man started from or was heading, but what this suggests is that Jesus was not making up a story, a parable, but recounting an event that actually took place, so He gave this detail.

Robbers attacked the man, stripped him and beat him leaving him half dead.

A priest came by. This was the highest order of spiritual person in the culture. He was able to perform religious duties others were forbidden to perform. He, you might think, should have been the first to display God’s character and to care for the injured man. However, he passed by, keeping his distance.

Next came a levite. This was the next highest order of spiritual person. He too should have displayed God’s care. However, he too passed by, keeping his distance.

A Samaritan came along, saw him and had compassion. This was a foreigner, from a group often despised by the Jews. This is the one most likely to not care what happened to the injured man. However he did care. He took the man to an inn and saw to his needs.

Jesus then answered the man’s question with a question.

“Which of these three, do you consider, proved to be a neighbour to the man attacked by the robbers? The man answered, The one who showed mercy. And Jesus said to him, You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10:36,37

Do Likewise? What does that mean?

It means we are to regard people as our neighbour without regard for the social, cultural and political elements of their life. Being a ‘neighbour’ in God’s language means being a person in some kind of need. It doesn’t matter that they don’t speak our language or don’t live in the same way or to the same beliefs as we do.
The concept of neighbour goes way beyond those in our family and neighbourhood, or of our nationality, or among anyone we would normally associate with.

Yet the idea of loving our neighbour does not mean loving everyone in the whole world at the same time. Let me explain.

That Samaritan helped the injured Jewish man because he came across him on the road. The Good Samaritan didn’t set up a team to search the hills every day for more injured people. There must have been others who were attacked by the robbers, but the only one we know the Samaritan assisted was this one man.

The Good Samaritan was a neighbour to the man in need, but not to all the people in the world. He met the need that confronted him, but did not devote himself to searching out needs everywhere they might be hidden. He went on with his life without any obsession about finding needy people.

So Christ is revealing that anyone could be our neighbour, but the act of loving our neighbour is not an obsession, driving us around the world in search of needy people. It is a matter of us living life and paying attention to the people in our neighbourhood, whether that’s along the road we travel, in the town we are visiting, among our work associates, people taking the same bus as us, or strangers who happen to turn up in front of us.

With that perspective we can balance getting on with life with Christ’s (and God’s) command that we love our neighbour as ourself.

Which neighbour are you to love? All of them. But rather than lose your life looking for neighbours, get on with your life and love all those neighbours who God puts in your path, no matter how unexpected.

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