Just how would you define “Neighbor”?
Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”
He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”
He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”
“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”
Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?” Luke 10.25-29 | MSG
I love word studies.
I love words, period.
Digging into the Greek word translated “neighbor” in this famous Jesus story of the Good Samaritan, I find it instructive that Thayer’s old lexicon definition lists “according to the O.T. and Jewish conception, a member of the Hebrew race and commonwealth.” Let’s be fair to our Jewish neighbors – this is the conception we all share. It’s not even a religious conception or a bigoted one (though it is clearly bigoted!). It’s a human conception. We are obsessed with who is and who isn’t beyond the pale of our compassion.
Who am I responsible for? Who is entitled to my help? Who is the “elect” worthy of the full expression of my love and care?
The lawyer is looking for a loophole to justify his own actions – and don’t we all. I appreciate Thayer’s summary of Jesus’ teaching and stance: “any other man irrespective of race or religion with whom we live or whom we chance to meet.” But setting aside how the gender restricting “man” strikes our modern ears, the definition is still too cumbersome. Thayer had it at “any other person.” Any other person. Period.
Which means that no one is beyond the pale of our compassion.
All are “elect” in that sense; if he or she is a human being, they qualify. If she is a human being though halfway around the world, then when her dignity is stripped away, my dignity is stripped away; when my instinct to cover and protect myself is engaged, so it is with her, with him, whoever, wherever. Everyone is proximus. Every human being a plesion. Which isn’t meant to overwhelm us (not that it wouldn’t be helpful to feel a bit of that).
Just to shake us out of our typically much more narrowed range of vision and movement.
“Who is my neighbor?” How would you answer this question? In practical terms how do you answer this question?
Lord, let me be appropriately overwhelmed by the sheer number of neighbors confronting me this day. Give me the grace to see the faces I need to see, and to respond to each as you would lead. Through Jesus.