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“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ ” So said Jesus to His listeners in Matthew 5:43. His purpose in saying this was to put that nonbiblical “rule” aside. And in Luke 10, Jesus makes clear who our neighbor is by telling the parable of the good Samaritan. There He presents a wounded man, beaten and left for dead; a priest and a Levite, each of whom saw the wounded man as someone who was unclean; and a Samaritan, who saw the wounded man as someone worth caring about.

In the parable, the priest and Levite showed that their hearts were far from the heart of God. According to Jewish practices, the priest had “religious” reasons for ignoring the man’s need. If the body was a corpse and he touched it, the priest would be unclean for seven days (Num. 19:11). To the priest, law and ceremony were more important than loving others. The Levite, too, would take no risk to help this man. But the Samaritan demonstrated that he and his values were close to the heart of God. The Samaritan, the one whom all religious Jews of the time despised, was prepared to help, for the love of God was in his heart.

What was the teaching of the day? To Jews of Jesus’ era, a neighbor was “one of their own.” Gentiles were not neighbors; they were the enemy. Samaritans were similar to gentiles, since they intermarried with pagans. Jews exempted gentiles from their neighbor obligation because the Jews considered gentiles unclean. Matthew Henry wrote:

They would not put an Israelite to death for killing a Gentile, for he was not his neighbour: they indeed say that they ought not to kill a Gentile whom they were not at war with; but, if they saw a Gentile in danger of death, they thought themselves under no obligation to help to save his life. (Emphasis original)

At the time, Jews considered Samaritans as they would lepers—they were among the “untouchables.” They went so far as to believe that if a Jewish person’s shadow touched a Samaritan’s, the Jew would be contaminated, and if a Samaritan woman entered the Jewish village, the entire village would become unclean.

The parable of the good Samaritan clearly defines our “neighbor” as anyone at all whose need we see.

How we answer the question “Who is my neighbor?” has a lot to say about our priority to love people who are different from us. It doesn’t take much imagination for each of us to figure out who Jesus would use as an example of “neighbor” in our hometowns and cities.

The parable of the good Samaritan clearly defines our “neighbor” as anyone at all whose need we see. I have been reminded by God many times that I am required to be kind to the unlikable and the unthankful and that I am required to show love to all people. Such love requires that I confess my sins and repent. It is hard work.

Do you ever look at neighbors you dislike as though they were inanimate objects and treat them as such? Jesus never did; He loved even His enemies. He did not seek to advantage Himself at the expense of others, and He surrendered the right to get even with His enemies. So our question “Who is my neighbor?” should be replaced by our asking, “Whose neighbor am I?” We cannot know beforehand whom we will meet, yet God places us in positions to be helpful. The immediate sight of a neighbor demands a gracious response.

I love the power of the words contained in Proverbs 3:27: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” Often, our neighbors ask, “Where are the Christians?” Don’t make them guess. Assure them by the power of your Christian love.

Forgoing Retaliation as Salt and Light

Maintaining Our Distinctiveness

Keep Reading Salt and Light

From the July 2022 Issue
Jul 2022 Issue