Defining Neighbour

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We as image-bearers of God have an unprecedented opportunity to re-engage with our community tables that have been set before us. Our tables need to be large enough to invite our neighbours to join us for food, laughter and conversation. So naturally we ask the question, who is my neighbour? 

The parable of the Good Samaritan tells the story of a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, and while on the way he is robbed of everything he had, including his clothing, and is beaten to within an inch of his life. That road was treacherously winding and was a favorite hideout of robbers and thieves. 

Unfortunately, “love” was not a word for him that required action

In telling us this story Jesus introduces us to a priest.  He spends no time describing the priest and only tells how he showed no love or compassion for the man and passed on the other side of the road so as not to get involved. If there was anyone who would have known God’s law of love, it should have been the priest. By nature of his position, he was to be a person of compassion, desiring to help others. Unfortunately, “love” was not a word for him that required action on the behalf of someone else. The next person to pass by in this parable is a Levite, and he does exactly what the priest did: he passes by without showing any compassion. Again, he would have known the law. But he also failed to show the injured man compassion.

The next person to come by is the Samaritan, the one least likely to have shown compassion for the man. Samaritans were considered a lower class of people by the Jews since they had intermarried with non-Jews and did not keep all the law. Therefore, Jews would have nothing to do with them. We do not know if the injured man was a Jew or Gentile, but it made no difference to the Samaritan; he did not consider the man’s race or religion. 

Jesus is drawing a strong contrast between those who knew the law and those who actually followed the law.

The “Good Samaritan” saw only a person in dire need of assistance, and assist him he did, above and beyond the minimum required. He dresses the man’s wounds with wine (to disinfect) and oil (to sooth the pain). He puts the man on his animal and takes him to an inn for a time of healing and pays the innkeeper with his own money. He then goes beyond common decency and tells the innkeeper to take good care of the man, and he would pay for any extra expenses on his return trip. The Samaritan saw his neighbour as anyone who was in need.

Because the good man was a Samaritan, Jesus is drawing a strong contrast between those who knew the law and those who actually followed the law in their lifestyle and conduct. 

Jesus then turns to the lawyer and asks, “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbour to the man attacked by robbers?”

“The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.

Jesus said, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:36 Message*) 

All our lives we are in need of others, and others are in need of us!  

The lawyer’s answer reveals his personal hardness of heart. He cannot bring himself to say the word “Samaritan”, he refers to the “good man” as “he who showed mercy.” His hate for the Samaritans (his neighbours) was so strong that he couldn’t even refer to them by name. Jesus then tells the lawyer to “go and do likewise,” meaning that he should start living out what the law tells him to do. (Luke 10:36 NIV)

We need one another when we mourn and would be comforted. We need one another when we are in trouble and afraid. We need one another when we are in despair, in temptation, and need to be recalled to our best selves again. We need one another when we would accomplish some great purpose, and cannot do it alone. We need one another in the hour of success, when we look for someone to share our triumphs. We need one another in the hour of defeat, when with encouragement we might endure, and stand again. We need one another when we come to die, and would have gentle hands prepare us for the journey. All our lives we are in need of others, and others are in need of us!  

So live well—treating everyone as your neighbour, a commitment that requires love in action.  

Defining Neighbour - A Reflection from Harold Roscher

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