Who Is My Neighbor?

Luke 10:25-37 (NASB)
"And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, 'Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' And He said to him, 'What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?' And he answered and said, '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.' And He said to him, 'You have answered correctly; DO THIS, AND YOU WILL LIVE.' But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?' Jesus replied and said, 'A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went off leaving him half dead. And by chance a certain priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him, and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return, I will repay you.' Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?' And he said, 'The one who showed mercy toward him.' And Jesus said to him, 'Go and do the same.'"

"Who is my neighbor?" This is a question that people have had to think about in the course of their daily lives for centuries. It is one that is relevant to us living today. Is our neighbor the person who lives next door to us? Is our neighbor the one we work with, or the person with whom we worship in church every week? This parable of Jesus is important because it defines how we should view others, regardless of who they are. In Christ's day Jews and Samaritans, to put it mildly, did not get along. In fact, the Jews held Samaritans in contempt. Jesus told this parable in this particular way to illustrate the foolishness and wrongness of this hate, and to show that neighbors include more than just friends or fellow countrymen. Our neighbors include those who live next door to us, our co-workers, and those with whom we worship. But our neighbors also include people we see stranded at the side of the road due to car trouble, the elderly man or woman who lives alone and wishes for someone to talk to, the outcast, those in need of friendship, and even those with whom we do not get along or are even our enemies. All these people, good or bad, those who like us or not, and those we like or not, are also our neighbors. In essence, everyone. Jesus calls us to be a neighbor to all, to be of aid to others in their time of need.

"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR, but hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be the sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" (Matthew 5:43-47)

Jesus took an Old Covenant precept and re-interpreted it in the context of His message of love. In the context of the Gospel He was preaching. It seems Jesus may have been referring to this passage in Leviticus when he made the above statement Matt. 5:

"You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD." (Leviticus 19:17-18)

It is easy to see from this passage how the Jews would come to the understanding that a neighbor was defined as someone living within the community of Israel, and that those outside this community were to be avoided, lest they become corrupted by their ways and turn away from God (Leviticus 20:23-24). But as time went on this exclusiveness turned to contempt and hatred of those outside the community of Israel. They were not considered neighbors, but treated as enemies. But Jesus took this cultural bias and attempted to turn it around. He called out for a higher standard on how people should treat each other. Why? Because God's blessings fall on the good and the bad alike. It is easy to love one's friends. Even non-Christians or atheists can do that. But one who has Christ working within is enabled to love on a higher level. A level which includes loving one's enemies.

"We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we out to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in Him?" (1 John 3:14-17)

Why should we consider everyone our neighbor? Because Christ laid down His life for all people. We are to love each other because Christ loves all of us. Doing so shows that Jesus lives in our hearts. We cannot say that we love God and at the same time hate our brother, who is our neighbor. When we let the Holy Spirit work in our hearts, we will be able to truly be a neighbor to those with whom we come in contact in our daily lives, even those with whom we may not get along, or even an enemy. We will be more willing to help strangers in need. By this all will see and know that we are disciples of Jesus and that He abides in us.

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