Who Is My Neighbor?

This week I have been reflecting on a well-known and oft-quoted gospel story in Luke 10:25-37, about the lawyer who put Jesus to the test in asking "what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"  Jesus' response, though well known to us now was not really expected by the lawyer as Jesus speaks to him the parable of the Good Samaritan:

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ ” (Luke 10:30–35, ESV)
The question has been raised in my mind, "who is my neighbor?" and "how do I love my neighbor as myself?"  It really is unfortunate that I have read over, and have even preached sermons on this text and have not really caught the significance of the "neighbor" Jesus speaks of.  
 Use of "Neighbor" In the Old Testament
In the Old Testament, the idea of a "neighbor" is limited mainly to those who are fellow members of the covenant community.  Though never really explicitly limited, a reading and study of the Old Testament reveals at least a cultural understanding of these limits.  An example given in the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible is Leviticus 19:18, where God clearly tells the people of Israel to "love your neighbor as yourself".   However, in Leviticus 19:34, it is explicitly stated that this love should also be shown to the stranger.
You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. ” (Leviticus 19:34, ESV)
The question is then asked, why would there be this distinction between loving our neighbor and also the stranger among us?  This could possibly point to the idea that "neighbor" in the Old Testament was really more limited in scope, however one can also see that God was working to change that paradigm even in the Old Testament and through later Judaism.  
Use of "Neighbor" in the New Testament
When Jesus comes on the scene, things begin to change dramatically.  In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus advocates extending the obligation reserved for the neighbor to the enemy as well.  When Jesus refers back to Leviticus 19:18 in Matthew 5:43-48, he includes the cultural understanding of neighbor: "you have heard that you are to love your neighbor and hate your enemy..."  This is where Jesus turns the world on its head when he says that to love our neighbor means also to love our enemies and even to "pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).  Here, Jesus is outright destroying the distinction between neighbor and enemy altogether.  
 Which leads to my final thoughts... who is my neighbor?  A simple answer might be anyone that I come into contact with.  And, for the most part I do not have any say who, when, or where I might run into one of these neighbors.  Bishop Ruben Job in his book Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living, outlines the three simple rules John Wesley incorporated into the General Rules of the Church: 1) Do No Harm, 2) Do Good, and 3) Stay in Love With God.  An understanding of these three simple, but complex to live out, rules has helped me to grasp the concept of seeing others as children of God.

Why don't we get to choose our neighbors?  Because if we were left to choosing our neighbors, we wouldn't allow our enemies to become our neighbors, and quite honestly I don't think we would have any neighbors!
I believe that when we begin to see people as God sees them, his children that God chose to die for, only then will we be able to love our neighbors as ourselves, and the distinction between neighbors and enemies will finally dissolve as we "love one another as God loves [us]".  Amen


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