In my last blog entry I talked about the Greatest Commandment, if you are to read nothing else from the Bible, Jesus wants us to know that loving God and loving our neighbour are the messages we are to take away. In Luke 10:29 the “lawyer” that asked it wanted to know just who Jesus meant by “neighbour”. I love that the NIV says that he asked it “wanting to justify himself”, I’ll have more to say on that in a later post, but it also shows this attitude of just wanting to learn the bare minimum to meet some standards. “Do this, get to heaven” philosophy that was prominent with the Pharisees of the time, and some Christians today (again, a running theme in this blog will be likening Pharisees to some modern day Christians, the parallels are surprising), Jesus gave an interesting story about who our neighbour is whose meaning may have been lost on modern audiences.
The parable that Jesus told to illustrate his point was what we all know as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. To recap, the main players are the man who was “attacked by robbers”, a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. We can kind of picture who the priest and Levite are, while nothing is said about the man who was attacked, we can assume he was Jewish, but the Samaritan I’ve always found interesting. Nowadays, we hear the term “Samaritan” and I’d assume most people think of a person who does good works and helps others merely because of this story. In Jesus’ time, though, Samaritans were not looked highly upon. They trace their ancestry back to the Northern Kingdom, the other 10 tribes that were often at war with Judah (the southern tribes) , and many Jews of Jesus’ time staunchly did not see them as “real Jews”, I can definitely see the “religious leaders” of his day throw this epithet at them. (There is also a hint as to their feelings towards the Samaritans in this story, where when Jesus asks him who he thought was a neighbour, the lawyer replies “the one who showed mercy”, not “the Samaritan”. I like to think he said it in an embarrassed tone.).
So in his parable, Jesus has someone who is “not a real Jew” by the audience’s mind being a neighbour to someone and helping them, while the people that are “just like them” and admired – the priest and Levite – ignoring their duty to their fellow man. Maybe they didn’t have the time? Maybe there was something “different” about the traveller that made them not want to have anything to do with him. The Samaritan didn’t ask questions, didn’t ask if he was friend or foe, he just saw a fellow human being. The Samaritan, the outcast, was the neighbour to someone that he despised, and we are commanded to “do likewise”?
To further illustrate the principle of a “good neighbour” I’m going to take an example from the neighbourhood I live in called Transcona. When you go into Transcona, you’ll see a statue of our neighbourhood “mascot”, Hi Neighbour Sam. He stands at the entrance of Transcona and has his hat tipped saying “Hi Neighbour” to everyone that comes in, no matter who they are. Christian, atheist, black, white, Muslim, Jew, gay, straight, liberal or conservative. It doesn’t matter. Everyone is his neighbour. And Jesus has told us that this is to be our attitude.
Too often we forget that to live out the Greatest Commandment, we are to treat as our “neighbour” those who we can’t stand, like the traveller would have been to the Samaritan, not just our physical neighbour who looks like us, believes what we believe, and roots for the same sports teams. Our neighbour is to be found on the road to Jericho, ignored by those who are too busy, too religious, or too selfish to help them out. Instead, we are to ask no questions. We are to help our neighbour.