Who, then, is my neighbour?
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. 'Teacher', he said, 'what must I do to inherit eternal life?' He said to him, 'What is written in the law? What do you read there?' The lawyer answered, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.' And Jesus said to him, 'You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.'
But wanting to justify himself, the lawyer asked Jesus, 'And who is my neighbour?'
St Luke x. 25-29
The passage of Scripture quoted above is the beginning of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The lawyer bounds up to Jesus, asking Him all sorts of questions about eternal life and how to get there. Jesus responds by asking the lawyer to quote the Scriptures.
An orthodox Jew, such as we believe the lawyer to have been, would have worn little boxes around his wrists. These boxes, called phylacteries, contained rolled up scrolls. On these scrolls were written the texts that the lawyer quoted, coming from the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Jewish Scriptures (our Old Testament).
Unfortunately, though, the Jews of the time had tried to codify and legalise the very simple commandment to love God and neighbour. They had written complex guidelines, describing exactly who 'counted' as a neighbour and who didn't. A Gentile, for example, was not considered a neighbour. Even if a Jew came across a Gentile woman in labour, they were not meant to help her. It was complex verging on cruel.
However, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus turns this idea on its head. Through making the Samaritan character the 'hero', Jesus shows that neighbourliness has nothing to do with nationality or creed. Furthermore, He shows we are still required to help those in need even if we believe they have bought the trouble on themselves. (The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was notoriously dangerous and there were safer alternatives).
As we begin our week, I would invite you to consider who you believe your neighbour to be. Are you as open minded as Jesus was to this ancient command, or are you falling into the same trap as the Jewish lawyers?
Let us pray:
Father to the helpless and support to the weary:
as we travel through our lives, may we be ever conscious of the plight of those less fortunate than we are, and ever ready to offer the neighbourly love that Jesus commands.
This prayer we ask, conscious of His example and the Spirit's strengthening.