“Who is my neighbor?” the lawyer asked Jesus.
He wasn’t asking out of humble sincerity, wanting to learn. The bible says he was trying to test Jesus and justify himself. Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan.
To fully understand this familiar story, let’s look at the background. The Levitical law, which the lawyer was very familiar with, required the Jewish people to love their neighbors. In Leviticus 19:18, we see that the requirement extended to all Jewish people, those of their own kind.
If you remember, initially Israel was made up of 12 tribes. As anyone might expect, twelve different tribes would have some conflicts, but under King David these tribes were united together and experienced a time of great peace and prosperity. After his son Solomon’s rule, however, these tribes divided into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom (known as Israel) and the southern kingdom (known as Judah). These “brothers” separated from each other, distrusting and disliking the other.
In time, the Assyrian army conquered the northern kingdom, dispersing them and bringing in other people groups from neighboring countries. Because of the outside influence of neighboring cultures, Judah considered them inferior, a “mixed race”. The northern region eventually became known as Samaria, named after their capital city. The Jews of the south intensely despised the northern Samaritans.
The interesting thing was, they both worshiped Yahweh, the one true God. However, Israel’s interpretation of scriptures led them to believe that God wanted them to worship in Gerizim, while Judah’s reading of the scriptures convinced them that Jerusalem was where they were to worship. In the time of Jesus, a Jew would would walk miles out of his way to not step foot on the land of Samaria, so as not to be defiled by these despicable peoples. It was no small thing that Jesus traveled through Samaria and engaged with the Woman at the Well. When she realized Jesus was a prophet, she asked him the burning question, “Which one of them was right?” Both had scriptures to prove that they were the “right” group.
Jesus responded as he always did when people tried to corner him into the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Neither side was “right”. The question was irrelevant. Jesus explained that the time had come when worshiping the Father would not be about the right place, but with the right heart. The flesh is compelled to make a distinction between what is right and what is not. God knows good and evil, but He is not led by that knowledge. He is led by agape love, and this makes all the difference.
In fact, at one point the disciples were instructed by Jesus to go ahead and find a place to stay in Samaria. And when the Samaritans realized Jesus would be going to Jerusalem, they believed he was against them/their side, so they refused them entry. The disciples reported back and asked Jesus, “Shall we call down fire upon them?” (Elijah had done it, so it was scriptural.) Jesus replied, “You don’t know what spirit you are of.” Jesus did not come to cause harm. He came to save and bring life to all people who were dead in sin.
Who is your neighbor? The good Samaritan story illustrates that people are individuals and each is precious to God. Even the Jews’ most hated enemy displayed a daring compassion, willingly providing for the healing of a person, NOT of his own kind.
The lawyer admitted the true neighbor was the one who demonstrated kindness and mercy. Jesus replied, “Go and do likewise.”
Today, let’s go out of our own kind and be a good neighbor, applying the healing balm of oil (the Holy Spirit) and wine (the blood of Jesus) to those who are wounded by this world. Sometimes they may even seem to be enemies. Only you, with Christ living in you, has something substantial to offer them.