Who is My Neighbor?

25 And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life.” Luke 10:25

Read Luke 10:25-37

This is one of those occasions when, knowing what you know, you cringe in your mind and perhaps under your breath groan “you don’t want to go there!” It’s not a good idea to go toe to toe with the Master.

We all hear what the lawyer says and fully expect Jesus to soon own him. How could it go any other way?

It is noteworthy, at least to me, that the the lawyer calls him “teacher.” It’s the same Greek word didaskalos that is translated on occasions “master.” But here most translations opt for “teacher,” likely because of the context, since the lawyer was testing him.

You never want your professor to ask a question of you when you ask one with such an intent. Jesus says, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” In law school it’d be, can you cite relevant case law on the subject?

Well, the lawyer does so perfectly by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, “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,” eliciting this response from Jesus, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

If the lawyer had stopped there he would have “won,” since he had just received “the words of life,” but he pushed it too far by attempting to declare himself righteous with the diversionary question, “Who is my neighbor?” The parable known as “The Good Samaritan” is the teacher’s response.

That Jesus switched over to the use of a parable at this point was indication that the lawyer didn’t understand what it meant to be his follower, according to the guidelines set forth in Luke 8:10, “To you [his followers] it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”

I did not realize this simple story has been allegorized by scholars to see the Samaritan as Christ and the inn as the church. But it has also been oversimplified on “flannel boards” in children’s ministries down through time. It must be understood as it would be by those who heard it told. As an aside, it’s interesting that the one who’s been beaten is not the Samaritan!

The question on the table then is “Who is my neighbor?” Perhaps the question should be, who in this story is loving someone “as yourself?” The priest? The Levite? To them, there was no reason not to help the man (presumed to be a Jew) except perhaps some pious excuse to avoid contamination. The Samaritan had every reason to slide to the other side.

Jesus uses the Samaritan to set the bar very high. “My neighbor” is any one, of any stripe, other than myself. In order to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength requires me to love others as God loves me, and as I love myself; actively, compassionately, unconditionally, sacrificially, liberally. The Samaritan spends his time, provisions, and two days wages to help the man. As I said, the bar is high.

I remember the story my dad told me about him picking up a hitchhiker back in the day. Not only did he provide him transportation, he bought him a sandwich, took him to the bus station, and bought him a ticket. This story obviously stuck with me, and it’s a good illustration of what this parable teaches.

One question haunts. When the wounded man came to and began to recover because of the care and concern of his “enemy,” did he understand the concept of loving his neighbor and what it means to love God in every dimension of life? Odds are he did. Certainly he understood what it meant to be saved.

About Rick Reynolds

You'll find me in the far right hand corner of evangelical Christianity. Been studying the Word for 40 years and counting.
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