When pondering what Jesus said about the best way to live (loving God and neighbor as He has loved you – see last post), we will undoubtedly want to ask the question “And who is my neighbor?” just like the expert in the law did in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The motivation behind this question is addressed in my current book selection called The Art of Neighboring, where it says…
The man wanted to define this word neighbor in such a way that he could not be found blameworthy. If his neighbor was someone he could choose, then he’d be OK. By asking Jesus to define the word neighbor, this man was looking for a loophole.
What Neighbor Means to Us
Essentially, he wanted the word “neighbor” to mean “those you choose to hang out with” or “those you’re compatible with” or “those who share common beliefs, interests, social status, skin color, worship style…etc.” with. Those that define neighbor in this way will love those that make it through their self-serving filters.
Maybe they are blood relatives or attend the same church services or small group, or maybe they enjoy the same leisure activities and have compatible personalities. It’s likely the expert in the law could pass this test and inherit the eternal life he was seeking.
What Neighbor Really Means
But in typical Jesus fashion, he uses a parable to show this man that he has a selfish, individualistic and incomplete definition of neighbor. The two men that passed the traveler in need were religious and were from the same race. The one that stopped and took care of the traveler was the opposite. He was from a culture that hated Israelites (which the traveler was). Yet, Jesus says that they are neighbors.
Why We Struggle With This
While most American neighborhoods are segmented by social class, many of them contain people with major differences of culture, religion and more. Because of technological advances of transportation and communication, these are typically not things one thinks about anymore when considering their place of residence because they can just drive to hang out with those they choose to.
Previously, you were either friends with those that lived around you or you didn’t have any friends at all. Therefore, in any random neighborhood in our time, you might find an Indian Hindu might live next to a Caucasian Christian who lives right next to an African American Athiest.
Typically, these types of neighbors will keep to themselves. But, Jesus teaches us that this is not what we were made for. Your neighbor is not who you choose to hang with, but anyone you encounter from day to day; especially those who live right next door.