In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus tells an expert in biblical law that the path to eternal life is to obey the commandments, “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 “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The law expert, wanting to justify himself, then asked, “But who is my neighbor?”
The expert in the law must have thought he would stump Jesus with that question. After all, surely not everyone can be my neighbor! Jesus answers by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan.
The parable teaches followers of Jesus three elements of loving our neighbor: the people, the process, and the perspective. In this three-part series, we’ll look at each of those elements. This post focuses on the people and tries to honestly reflect on the question, “Who is my neighbor?”
Who are the people we are to love?
When the expert asked Jesus, “Who is the neighbor I’m supposed to love like myself?” Jesus didn’t respond by saying, “Your family and friends” or “The people you live by—people who are like you.” Instead Jesus told a story that cut right to the heart of the racial divide between Jews and Samaritans.
Spencer Perkins recalls the hatred between these two groups of people: “Jews didn’t see the Samaritans as their neighbors. Samaritans were half-breeds, the scum of the earth, outcasts. The Jews believed that if a Jewish person’s shadow happened to touch a Samaritan’s shadow, it would contaminate the Jew. If a Samaritan woman entered a Jewish village, the entire village became unclean.” 
By placing the Samaritan man at the center of the compassion expressed in the parable Jesus was in essence abolishing all social divides that sometimes place boundaries on the individuals we serve and love. Where are the divides today? For many of us the reality is that it is not the person from the other side of the earth that is hardest to love, but the nearby neighbor whose skin color, language, rituals, values, clothing, beliefs, and choices are different from our own.
Who would Jesus use as the neighbor if he were speaking to us today?
God’s love crosses all borders, races, classes and comfort zones. As the Samaritan taught us when he leaned down to serve the beaten man, our neighbor is anyone in need.
What is also ironic about this parable is that the hated Samaritan was the love-GIVER in Jesus’ story. Put yourself in the place of the man lying on the road. Imagine a gang-banger coming and caring for YOUR needs. Imagine being helped and served by the one you considered your adversary.
Is your willingness to accept love much easier than your desire to give it?
Have you been in a place of need and been served by a person much different than yourself?
How does this parable teach you to see neighborly love from a new perspective?
Receiving and giving love to people who are not like us is no easy task. Our hearts are drawn to comparisons and judgmental thinking. It seems much easier to be critical than to pause and fully understand a person’s pain. I am continually finding myself challenged to see God’s love through a different set of lenses. To see the person and not the stereotype, the individual and not the label. God, help me to understand that your command to love my neighbor is radical and finds no boundaries in man made divisions.
As you grow in your faith, let God unfold His great love for you every day. Then follow the lead of the Samaritan and express a love that has no boundaries and seeks to bring reconciliation to the differences among us.