I went for a walk with my daughter this evening.  The heat of the day was beginning to dissipate but not fast enough.  As I strolled through our neighborhood I couldn’t help but notice how few people were outside.  House after house the doors and windows were shut up with no one stirring outside.  For many neighborhoods in America this is likely the norm.  Not for ours.  It is not uncommon to see 20 people per day pass by our house walking, running, or biking.

So on this particular evening, I found myself strolling solo through a very closed up neighborhood.  It is likely that this odd occurrence was the result of the persistent heat driving everyone inside to their AC.  I was having second thoughts myself after one block and couldn’t blame the neighbors for avoiding the heat.  As we continued on our walk I couldn’t help but think about my neighbors.  Or better put, I couldn’t help but think about myself as a neighbor to them.

In Luke 10, an expert in religious law asks Jesus what must be done to inherit eternal life.  Jesus asks for the expert’s interpretation of the law of Moses on the matter.  The expert replies by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Jesus affirms the expert’s response as right and says, “Do this and you will live!”  Upon hearing this the expert looks to justify his actions by asking, “And who is my neighbor?”

It is in response to this question that Jesus tells the “Good Samaritan” parable.  The religious law expert was looking for a clear description of “who” his neighbor was in order to know who he was and was not required to “love as himself.”  That is to say, the law expert was wanting to determine his neighbor in order to determine his actions.  By the time Jesus finished this parable the expert was probably wishing he had never asked.

In the Good Samaritan parable Jesus does describe what a neighbor looks like.  It’s just not quite what the expert was looking for.  The story of the Good Samaritan describes one mans tragedy and the response to that tragedy by three other men.  Jesus concludes his parable by asking the expert which of the three men who responded to the tragedy was “a neighbor.”  The expert replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”  Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”  Unbelievable!  Jesus defined neighbor by action. That was a total perspective change for the expert.

The expert was looking to define the neighbor in order to determine his actions.  What Jesus does is define actions that determine a neighbor.  Jesus challenges the experts way of thinking from:

  • neighbor determines action,
  • to action determines neighbor.

And it is here that my mind wrestled.  I call myself a neighbor because I live in the same “neighborhood” as these houses I stroll by.  It’s a cultural perception for sure.  But I need more than a cultural perception informing my thinking.  When I allow Jesus parable of the Good Samaritan to begin to inform my perception of what being a neighbor means I find I am really a neighbor to few.  To most of the people who live in my “neighborhood” I am nothing more than the priest or temple assistant passing by in life.  Am I willing to become a neighbor to those who live around me?