It’s the question we all want an answered. We all want that excuse to go “Aha! I knew I didn’t need to love so-and-so!” But, is it ever okay to exclude someone from your love and claim that God’s love is outside of their lives? Is your neighbor defined by something tangible or is your neighbor the billions of people who share this planet with you?
In more than one place in the Bible, we are told to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. In fact, in the gospels, Jesus equates the significance of loving your neighbor with the significance of loving God. This begs the question, who is he talking about when he mentions our neighbors?
Who exactly is my neighbor?
Amazingly, this question is addressed by Jesus himself, yet we still ask it all the time, if not verbatim we do in our hearts. The parable of the Good Samaritan is taught many times in church and Sunday School and used to teach our children that they should help their friends in need, but we often ignore many facts about the true challenges of this story.
To begin with, in Luke chapter ten, Jesus shares his parable in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” In the parable, Jesus describes a man who Jews of the time would have hated and found despicable, a Samaritan, in the position of helping an injured Jewish man whom Jewish priests and others had ignored according to law and tradition.
At the end of the parable, Jesus asks the man which of the people in this story is the neighbor to the injured man, and the lawyer must have hung his head and mumbled his answer when he had no choice but to confess, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus’ response? “You go, and do likewise.”
At this time, a Samaritan was hated by the Jews of Jesus’ culture. Ask yourself, who is hated by our culture today? What would it look like if you were injured and the only person who helped you was the person of this culture? Who would Jesus call your neighbor?
Our neighbors are not defined by those who are nearest or most like us
Clearly, in this parable, we can see that when Jesus refers to our neighbor, he is not only referring to people who live in close proximity or share a similar culture, he is referring to anyone who happens to be a neighbor on this planet.
What he doesn’t say is that this is easy. Loving your neighbor is hard. Loving your neighbor as yourself is harder. Perhaps it’s the challenge of love that makes the love greater. If we all loved our neighbors as we loved ourselves, we could slowly help build a kingdom on this Earth that reflects that of the kingdom of heaven.