Who is Your Neighbor?
The many faces of the man on the side of the road
By Erin Gieschen
The story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37 is so iconic that its main character is now an entry in the English dictionary. Yet its message requires greater soul-searching than we usually consider necessary.
While the parable is, indeed, about helping the downtrodden, defenseless, and forgotten, Jesus wanted to teach us more—namely, how to recognize the many faces of our “neighbor.” In essence, He was not only trying to uncover our prejudices; He was also revealing Himself to us.
Jesus is the Good Samaritan, and He calls us to be like Him. His story teaches us how to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” and in doing so, how to exercise our own hearts.
Someone who doesn’t respect or understand you.
Can you think of anyone in your life who fits in this category? Whether it’s an individual or group you might label “enemy,” Jesus’ parable reveals that you’re called to actively love those who hate you. The Gospel writers constantly remind us that Jews hated Samaritans, viewing them as inferior with regard to ethnicity, religious beliefs, and politics. On the other side, Samaritan resentment of the Jews ran deep: they felt entirely misunderstood and persecuted. Yet the hero in this story chose love. The people God is calling you to reach out to include those who have wrongly judged you—as well as those you may have previously judged yourself. They are your “neighbor.”
Someone you don’t know and have no responsibility to help.
In theory, most Christians know that God “so loved the world” (John 3:16) and shows no favoritism (Rom. 2:11), but in practice, we often default to so-called conventional wisdom: we take care of our own. It’s only natural to focus our love on those who love us back. However, Jesus’ parable directly challenged the prevailing assumption in Jewish religious thought that the right thing to do (as God’s chosen but oppressed people) was always to put your own kind first. The Samaritan had no logical reason to prioritize the other man’s needs above his own. The victim was a stranger and an "enemy" who probably wouldn’t have given him a second glance, were their situations reversed. Yet Jesus’ love always transcends logic.
Someone who is inconvenient to love.
The Samaritan’s compassion ruined his own personal plans. Not only did he stop to help; he gave away things he needed to someone who wasn’t necessarily even expected to live. From the road to Jericho, the nearest inn was most likely out of the way and an exhausting, dangerous journey on foot. Then, once at the inn, he didn’t dump the “problem” person on someone else and quickly resume taking care of his own needs. Instead, he served the wounded man, nursing him at his own expense.
Do you reach out to those in need only when it doesn’t interrupt your schedule or cause you discomfort? Do you have personal rules or criteria regarding whom you will or won’t help? While there’s wisdom to the truism “You can’t save everyone,” we should never let it block the Holy Spirit’s voice. If He’s telling us to respond to a need that may not be convenient, the greater wisdom is always to follow His leading and entrust the outcome to Him. That’s when we’ll be empowered to give without withholding, even when there’s no guarantee of the results we’d like to see.
Someone who can’t thank you or pay you back.
It’s human nature to want to get credit for the good we do—particularly if we’ve made some kind of sacrifice. Even as believers, we may be tempted to claim we’re simply “giving God glory,” when what we actually want is the gratification of being acknowledged for our efforts. Or, we may feel justified in our resentment when the person we help seems unappreciative or doesn’t respond as we think appropriate.
The Samaritan knew that the half-dead man wasn’t capable of expressing thanks or repaying the kindness he received. By the time of his recovery, the stranger who helped him would be long gone. In Matthew 6:1-4, Jesus spelled out how we should give to those in need: to be deliberate about giving to others in secret, and never to broadcast what we’ve done. When you don't let “your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” you'll find it even more of a joy when you have the opportunity to show love with your time, energy, or resources—no strings attached.
Someone who is worth the risk, even if your fears are legitimate.
The ancient road to Jericho was a treacherous, winding path. Beyond their fear of becoming ceremonially unclean, the priest and Levite in Luke 10 would also have been concerned about their own safety when they saw the dying man. They may well have worried that the robbers who'd attacked him were nearby, or even that the man was potentially luring them into a trap. As valid as those fears may have been, Jesus was challenging our default position of self-preservation—that we might put others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3-5).
Someone who is loved and valued by God—your equal, despite your prejudices.
The hypocritical religious leaders saw only a man in a state of indignity, who might disrupt their lives or cause them harm. But the Samaritan saw, at the least, a fellow human being who deserved to be treated with dignity. It’s clear by the level of care he administered (and his eventual commitment to make sure the man would get well) that the Samaritan recognized him as an individual with a future—not just someone defined by his present situation. Next time you find yourself focusing on a person’s neediness instead of his or her true identity, ask God to remind you of how important both of you are to Him.
Someone you have the means to show love to and who will teach you how to love.
It’s not always easy to love someone else to the extent we care for ourselves. Rather, it usually requires a choice to recognize the truth about how God sees that person—and the will to act on it. Yet Jesus’ parable reveals two wonderful things that blossom from this sometimes painful choice.
First, even if you have reservations or feel you’re hardly the right person for the role, He’s equipped you to be His hands and feet and will provide what He wants you to give. Second, the person He’s put on your path has something to give you: an opportunity to grow spiritually. If the Lord draws you toward someone in need, chances are that He plans to use that individual in your life as well. You have only to keep your eyes and ears open to receive from him or her whatever God wants to bless you with.
Because at the end of the day, you, too, are somebody’s neighbor.
|Jesus in Clear Words: Ten Ways to Love Your Neighbor
Focus on Luke 6:27-38
Christlike love is completely countercultural and requires otherworldly thinking. The fact is, we can’t do what Jesus teaches us to do without His grace at work in us. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” He asks. “For even sinners love those who love them” (v. 32). This succinct teaching from the Sermon on the Mount tells us how to be radically different from the world.
1. Love your enemies (Luke 6:27).
2. Bless those who mistreat you (Luke 6:28).
3. Don’t demand your rights (Lk 6:29).
4. Give to everyone who asks of you (Lk 6:30).
5. Treat everyone the same way you’d want them to treat you (Lk 6:31).
6. Do good to those who’ve done nothing for you and won’t repay you (Lk 6:33).
7. Freely share what you have without expecting anything in return (Lk 6:34-35).
8. Be merciful to people who are ungrateful—even those who are evil. (Lk 6:36).
9. Don’t judge or condemn anyone, even if he deserves it (Lk 6:37).
10. Recognize the immeasurable blessing of giving without reservation (Lk 6:38).