Who is my neighbor?
NOTE: The 2015 ERLC Leadership Summit will address "The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation" to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families, and their churches. This event will be held in Nashville on March 26-27, 2015. To learn more go here.
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
A hallmark of Jesus’ ministry was meeting the needs of those around Him. Being a physician Luke was especially sensitive to this. In fact, he was the only gospel writer to reproduce all of Isaiah 61:1, which Jesus read when He announced the start of his ministry (Lk. 4:18). Following that announcement, Luke records a series of activities by Jesus in which He met the various spiritual (10:31-37) and physical needs of people (e.g., 4:38-44, 5:1-11, 8:22-25, 8:40-56).
Jesus did not engage in this ministry alone. Soon He sent His disciples out to meet the many needs of the people (Lk. 9:1-6, 10:1-24). The disciples returned some time later and reported the news of the success of their ministries (Lk. 10:17). Evidently, the activities of the disciples raised an important question among some people. They wondered just how far this ministry should extend. Luke answered this question by relating an encounter between Jesus and a Bible scholar. In that encounter, the scholar asked Jesus to tell him who qualified as a neighbor that he should love as himself (Lk. 10:25-37). Jesus told him the parable of the Samaritan to answer his question.
One of many challenges Jesus faced during his ministry was helping Jews understand the real meaning of their Scriptures. Often, the Old Testament was interpreted very narrowly in order to prevent its interference in cultural norms. Jesus confronted this practice on many occasions. Matthew records a number of instances in which Jesus interpreted the real meaning of passages in the Old Testament. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explained the true meaning of God’s prohibition of murder (Math 5:21-22), adultery (Matt. 5:27-30), divorce (Math 5:31-32), and many other teachings. In the current passage, Jesus explained to a Jewish Bible scholar what God meant when he told His people to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Within Jesus’ explanation, is the foundation for all human relationships, especially those between people of different races. In His parable of the Samaritan, Jesus reveals three characteristics of a person who loves his neighbor as he ought to.
I. A True Neighbor is Colorblind to those in Need
Jesus chose an extreme example to answer the scholar’s question. It is difficult to overstate the level of animosity between Jews and Samaritans in Jesus’ day. Samaritans were descendants of non-Jews who had been resettled in the area just north of Jerusalem by the Assyrians 700 years earlier (See 2 Kgs. 17:24-41). By Jesus’ time, many Samaritans were the offspring of marriages between non-Jews and Jews. The hatred ran so deep that many Jews preferred to travel east and cross the Jordan River before heading north to Galilee or south to Judah. In this way, they could avoid traveling through the region of Samaria, which lay between Judah and Galilee.
In His parable Jesus contrasted the act of compassion by a hated Samaritan and the lack of compassion exhibited by those who claimed obedience to the Law. When the man was attacked and left for dead, both the Jewish priest and Levite stayed as far from the dying man as possible by passing by “on the other side” (Lk 10:31-32). This could be compared today to crossing the road to avoid something in one’s path on the sidewalk. Most modern commentators reject the idea that the priest and Levite avoided the man because they were concerned about ritual purity. Two reasons for rejecting this explanation for their actions are: (1) they were probably going away from Jerusalem so they had finished their responsibilities at the temple and didn’t need to be as concerned about ritual purity; (2) they would only have become defiled if the man was dead or had a disease like leprosy.
In contrast, the Samaritan stopped and helped the dying man (Lk. 10:33-34). Jesus did not mention the race or nationality of the injured man. This was of no importance. What mattered was that there was an injured man lying in the path of those who had the power to help him. The Jewish religious leaders saw an obstacle to their purity, while the Samaritan saw an opportunity to help a person in need.
II. A True Neighbor has Compassion for Those in Need
Jesus said that the Samaritan “took pity” on the injured man. The word translated “took pity” is the Greek word esplanchnisthe. W. Liefeld, Luke, EBC, p. 943, observes that the word “implies a deep feeling of sympathy.” The same word is used often to describe Jesus’ response to those in need, e.g., Math 9:36, Lk. 7:13. The Samaritan responded to the man’s needs in the same way Jesus would have responded, but the priest and Levite revealed an opposite attitude by their response.
The Samaritan’s compassion led him to act. This, of course, required that he touch the dying man, something the Jewish men refused to do. He bandaged the man’s wounds and also poured oil and wine on him. J. Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, p. 204, says, “the oil would mollify (Isa. 1:6), the wine would disinfect.”
III. A True Neighbor is Committed to Helping Those in Need
The Samaritan’s act of compassion revealed a level of commitment that bespoke the true nature of being a neighbor to others. The Samaritan inconvenienced himself for the suffering man. It would have been easier to continue on his journey (Lk. 10:33). No doubt, he had appointments and time schedules to keep, but he suspended all of these to help a person in need.
Additionally, the Samaritan sacrificed for the needs of this man. Not only did he use some of his own resources to tend to the man’s wounds, he put the man on “his own donkey” and cared for him through the night. (Lk. 10:34-35). On the next day, when it was obvious the man would need more time to recover, the Samaritan paid the innkeeper two denarii (two days’ wages) to look after him until he returned, and promised to reimburse him for any additional expenses. L. Petersen, “Money,” The New International Dictionary of the Bible, p. 669, comments that the sum of money committed by the Samaritan to aid an unknown stranger “showed how great his love for his neighbor was.”
The Samaritan did not act superficially when he met this man’s needs. He did not bandage him and prop him up by the roadside to fend for himself. He helped the man get to safety, put him up at the inn at his own expense, and intended to return to check on the man’s situation. His compassion led him to help until his help was no longer needed.
When the Jewish scholar asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded with a parable about a man who acted like a neighbor. This parable did not address directly the question posed by the scholar. Was the neighbor the man who was hurt or the Samaritan? From Jesus’ question in v. 36 and the scholar’s reply in v. 37, it is clear that the neighbor was the Samaritan. Rather than telling the scholar who was his neighbor, Jesus reversed the roles and instructed the scholar to act like a neighbor to others (Lk. 10:37). In other words, he should not ask who is his neighbor, he should see himself as a neighbor to everyone he meets. Once he becomes everyone’s neighbor, then everyone he meets will be his neighbor. C. Eerdman, The Gospel of Luke, p. 126, concluded, “Thus Jesus indicated that our neighbor is not only one who ‘lives near’ but one who needs our help, as well as one who helps our need. He demonstrated the truth that the law of love is not limited by rank or station or race or creed.”
What Can One Person Do?
- Examine your own thoughts about people of other races, and ask God to help you overcome any racist attitudes you may have.
- Study the history and culture of other races to gain an appreciation of them.
- Encourage your church to invite congregations of other races to participate in joint worship services.
- Ask your church to sponsor community awareness seminars, where people of different races can come and talk about their own history and culture.
- Invite acquaintances of different races to your home so you can begin to get to know them.
- Check the hiring practices of local businesses to see if they reveal discriminatory practices against people of other races. Meet with the owners and ask them to consider changing these policies.
Other Helpful Scriptures
Bible verses about Race Relations:
Gen. 1:26-27, Gen. 3:20, Deut. 10:17, 2 Chron. 19:7, Prov. 24:23, Isa. 66:18, Mal. 2:10, Luke 10:29-37, John 4:7-10, Acts 2:5-11, Acts 8:26-39, Acts 15:6-9, Rom. 2:11, Rom. 10:12, Gal. 3:28, Eph. 2:14-22, Col. 3:11, 1 Tim. 5:21, James 2:1-9, Rev. 5:9