Who Is My Neighbor?

By: Paul Smithson

An individual who was skilled in the Law tested Jesus asking, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lk. 10:25-37). Jesus lets him answer his own question by referring him to the Law he knew so well, asking, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” The lawyer knew the heart of the law and answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” When Jesus referred him to God’s Law it not only answered the lawyer’s question, but also pricked his conscience. Realizing he had never fulfilled the requirement of the Law that he knew so well, the Scriptures state, “Wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” He attempted to justify himself by trying to limit who would be considered one’s neighbor.

To answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?”, Jesus told the parable of The Good Samaritan. “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds,  pouring  on oil and wine;  and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you” (vv. 30-35 ).

By the contrast that Jesus makes in the story, the robbed and beaten victim in the parable is presumably a Jewish man.  A priest and a Levite, two supposedly religious men, knowledgeable in the Law, and of the same race as the victim, fail to assist the man in need.

It was a Samaritan, a man of a race despised by the Jews, who gives his assistance to the man in need. Unlike the others who were only traveling 14 miles from Jericho to Jerusalem, the Samaritan was “on a journey.”  No doubt, like everyone who is on a trip, he wanted to hurry and get to where he was going. But this fellow, Jesus said, “Felt compassion.” Compassion is not a mushy, sissy, characteristic. It takes a person with real character to be compassionate. Anyone can be hard hearted and simply turn their head at someone else’s needs. Anyone can walk away and say, “I just don’t want to get involved.” Anyone can say, “I don’t help that race of people.” But being a loving person involves being a compassionate person, and Jesus says we must “love our neighbor as ourselves.” To show love toward others demands we get involved. When you see others in need, if you have any desire to show love toward your neighbor, you will have compassion for them; taking the time to do what ever you can to assist them in their situation– regardless of the risk, regardless of their race.

After telling the parable Jesus asked, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” The lawyer answered, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same” (vv.36-37). The parable not only caused the lawyer to consider the truth, but to admit it.

What an important lesson for the lawyer. Oh, what an important lesson for us! It is not the one who just professes kindness and love who truly loves their neighbor, but the one  who  shows  love and  kindness by their actions to all men.   Real love  leads  us  to deny ourselves and to sacrifice even our own welfare for the benefit of others.

God not only requires that we strive to have an accurate knowledge of His will, but that we also put that knowledge into everyday practice, showing our love for Him and our neighbors. We will strive to do both if we want to inherit eternal life.

A test for all of us is to place ourselves in the parable as one who came upon such a one in need, then honestly answer— would I prove to be a neighbor, or one who passed by on the other side, trying to justify ourselves asking, “Who’s my neighbor?”

About the Author
Paul Smithson is the evangelist for the Westwood church of Christ in Tullahoma, TN