Who is My Neighbor?

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On the ground in front of me, right in the middle of the trail where we were hiking last year in the desert of Israel, lay a member of our group. The people trekking in line ahead of me did not stop or break their stride to talk to the man lying on the ground, but instead just stepped over him and kept going. So I did the same.

I’m not sure what I thought. The truth is, I didn’t pay much attention to the person lying there at all. I figured if he had truly been injured, someone else would have stopped and helped him. As a result, I barely noticed him and just kept on hiking.

When we stopped to rest, Brian, our teacher, had us open the Word and read about the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.

An expert on Jewish law tested Jesus by asking him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus asked the expert what he thought the law required, the expert told him that one must love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength and love his neighbor as himself. Jesus agreed, and then the expert asked a question he wished he hadn’t, “And who is my neighbor?”

In response, Jesus told this parable.

A Jewish man lay near the side of the road naked, bloody and alone. He was barely conscious after being attacked, beaten, robbed and left for dead. Two Jewish religious leaders, a priest and a Levite, were walking down the same road and saw the man lying there. Both men ignored the seriously injured man, crossing over to the other side of the road so as to avoid him.

A Samaritan came along and when he saw the battered man, he did not look the other way, but took pity on him. He stopped what he was doing to care for him. He treated and bandaged his wounds, then took him to an inn and further cared for him. When the Samaritan left the inn the next day, he paid the innkeeper to take care of the injured man until the Samaritan could return and pay any outstanding charges for his care.

The Jewish religious leaders had a good reason for not stopping to offer help to the dying man. If the injured man was already dead or died while they were assisting him, then they would be ceremonially unclean and thus unfit for service in the tabernacle or temple for seven days. However, there is no indication that either the priest or the Levite showed even the slightest interest in offering assistance to the wounded man, regardless of whether doing so would have rendered them unclean. They did not stop and attempt to talk to him. Neither religious leader offered to get someone else to help their fellow Jew. These religious leaders were aware of the man’s critical condition but they did not have compassion on him. Instead, they chose to ignore him and kept on walking, going about their business and leaving him for dead like the robbers had done before them.

Just as the Jewish religious leaders had a good reason not to help their fellow injured Jew, so did the Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans did not socialize with each other. Jews despised Samaritans because they were half-breeds, having intermarried with Canaanites contrary to God’s unequivocal instructions.

The priest and Levite decided their service to the Lord in the tabernacle was more important than caring for someone in desperate need of help. Jesus made it clear that he did not agree with them, asking the Jewish legal expert, “Which of these do you think was a neighbor to the man who had been beaten and robbed?”

Jesus had made his point. Anybody who needs our help, mercy and compassion is our neighbor. If we are Christ followers, then we are commanded to help those in need regardless of race, ethnicity, values, beliefs, customs or whether we like them. Loving our neighbors as ourselves involves hands on service and will cost us something. More than that, loving our neighbors is a higher priority than anything else but loving God.

The Samaritan’s empathy for the wounded Jew in his terrible circumstances moved him to action. He was able to see the beaten and bloody man lying naked at the side of the road as someone who was just like him – in need of mercy and compassion. We begin to love our neighbors when we recognize that we are like them, they are like us and we need each other. We are all in this together and sooner or later, we all need help. As a caveat, however, God does not expect us to do for others what they can, but choose not to do for themselves.

There is no excuse for ignoring and stepping over someone in need whom God has placed directly in our path. If we refuse to stop and lend a hand, when lending a hand will help and not harm the other person, then we are in essence telling that person: “You are not my neighbor. I do not see you. I will not help you. I could not care less about you.”

I have stepped over many of my neighbors through the years as I go on my way: my spouse, my children, my friends, my co-workers, members of my church family and my community. Lord, please forgive me. Give me fresh eyes to see when you have placed someone directly in my path whose wounds you want me to bind up. Please create in my heart the same compassion and mercy for others that you have shown to me. God, spur me to action on behalf of the least of these and those who have trespassed against me. Please make your priorities my priorities.

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