Loving our Neighbors




“We can never be the better
for our religion if our neighbor
is the worse for it.”


Someone who helps another in need, especially in crisis, is often called a “Good Samaritan.” This designation derives from Jesus’ parable of the man beaten by robbers and left to die. While a priest and a temple official ignore this victim, a Samaritan has compassion on him. He applies balm to his wounds, transports him to an inn, and even promises payment to the innkeeper for continuing care.

This parable challenges our view of the world and how we respond to the differences in others. Anyone apprehending this extraordinary story will surely experience an amazing transformation.

Ironically, Samaritans are considered anything but good by most Israelites. First, they are a different race. Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC, exiling many inhabitants while moving foreigners into the land. Israelites reject the resulting “half breeds” and enforce a policy of strict segregation. So Samaritans are despised for being a different race.

Jesus declares our neighbor is a Samaritan, a person of a different race. To those refusing association with Samaritans, Jesus teaches that segregation and hate are the antithesis of his message.

Second, Samaritans have a different religion. Their scriptures and teaching differ and, erecting their own shrine on Mt. Gerizim, they reject the Jerusalem temple. Israelites respond by publicly cursing Samaritans in their synagogues. On one occasion, a religious leader contemptuously labels Jesus a Samaritan, declaring him demon possessed.

Jesus proclaims our neighbor is a Samaritan, a person with a different religion. While in Samaria, he tells the woman at Jacob’s well that the place of worship is irrelevant. What matters is “worship in spirit and in truth.” Like the shunned Samaritans, there are many people of other faiths who, worshiping in spirit and truth, are more spiritual than many of us Christians.

Third, Samaritans have a different nationality. The southern kingdom considers Samaria the territory of the enemy. Even Jesus’ disciples hold this view. When Samaritans snub Jesus because he is headed for Jerusalem, the disciples respond, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” They want a “holy war”! Jesus rebukes them: He consistently opposes violence by Romans, zealots and even his own disciples.

Jesus announces our neighbor is a Samaritan, a person from another nation. This is not a patriotic parable. Yes, Jesus loves his country but he also preaches on foreign soil, including Samaria. Jesus’ love does not cease at his nation’s borders. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…”

Jesus teaches us to reject our national prejudices. Our modern calls for fire from heaven must also be rebuked. This challenges each of us in different ways. If we hold conservatives in contempt, we must change our calumny into compassion. If we detest liberals, we must transform our loathing into love. Those endorsing war must respect enemies as neighbors, discerning that loving and killing cannot coexist. Likewise, peace activists must consider the politicians and commanders who plan wars their neighbors. Our enemy, as Paul says, is not flesh and blood but the spiritual forces that perpetrate evil.

A religious leader prompts this parable by asking Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” He wants to minimize the number of neighbors he is obliged to love. Jesus refuses to accommodate him. Moreover, instead of the customary portrayal of an Israelite as the hero, Jesus’ hero is his nation’s enemy. Is it any wonder Jesus is crucified!

When Jesus asks who is neighbor to the victim in this story, this religious leader refuses even to speak the word, “Samaritan.” It is “the one,” he states, who shows mercy.

“Go and do likewise,” Jesus says.

How about us? Will we show mercy? Or will we dismiss, discriminate and decimate those who differ from us by race, religion or nationality? Jesus affirms a better benchmark: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

©2004 Harry Rix. All rights reserved.

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