“And who is my neighbor?” We are familiar with the scribe’s question to Jesus. It prompts him to tell the parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 29-37). What bothers me about the parable is that the Samaritan does not know the man who he helps. The robbery victim is anonymous to the Samaritan. The scribe (and we) presume he is a Jew. Why? Because the scribe is. Jesus asks who was acting as a neighbor to the victim. “The one who helped him,” is how the scribe answers.
The Neighborly Commandment
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” is the basis for moral behavior according to most Christian churches. The last five of the Ten Commandments all deal with this one aspect of living. The neighbor may not be used or exploited. Other commandments require the neighbors animals, if found wandering, be brought home to the neighbor. In essence, our neighbor should be treated in the way we want to be treated. It is the “golden rule.” Most people in churches are inclined to agree in principle.
The parable of the Good Samaritan requires us to ask who we are in the story? Are we the priest or the Levite? Are we the victim? Could we be the hero of the story? If the situation was reversed, would the victim have acted as the Samaritan or the Levite? Jesus is clever not to claim any player in the parable is a scribe. The listener would not have to analyze the situation as he does.
The Neighbor We Know
The parable is about being a neighbor as opposed to having one. The other day I was weeding the flower bed. My neighbor has small dogs that always bark at me when I am outside. The invisible fence keeps them from coming over to me. It can be annoying if I have to be outside any length of time while they are out. I ignore the barking as best I can at those times.
My neighbor yelled over to me, “You can borrow my weed eater if you want.” I looked up. I think it is the first time he spoke to me. “It will take care of all of that for you a lot faster.”
I do yard work for my mental health. I also do it for my physical health. But mainly yard work is a time when I move muscles to promote better thinking. The emotional satisfaction of accomplishing a needed task is important at the end of the job too.
My neighbor knows none of that. He was simply offering to help by how he would want to be helped. I looked around to reevaluate the task. “I may knock on your door later.” I replied and went back to work.
People walk in my neighborhood. Often, when I am out working, they stop to make small-talk. Usually, it is about the job I am doing. I am new to the neighborhood. My wife has lived there for some time now. She knows the names of some of the neighbors. I still don’t. But they are starting to learn my name. The only one who has offered to help with any of the work is the fellow next door.
Regard for My Neighbor
How should I regard my neighbor? Some teachers advise learning to love one’s own self before trying to love my neighbor. The commandment says, “you shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” I think they are wrong. When being a neighbor, you take your focus off of yourself. The “first and greatest” commandment is to “love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” (Luke 10:27) I cannot see having all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength on myself leaving room for anyone else. I don’t believe we are meant to regard our neighbors in any way other than as neighbors. We love them as we love ourselves. Not as though they are better than us.
The letter carrier left a piece of my neighbor’s mail in my mailbox. I took it next door. When I knocked on the door, the dogs barked their heads off. My neighbor simply said, “how can I help you?” I replied, ‘this letter was put in the wrong box.” He nodded. “Leave it by the door. I will get it later.” I did as he said.
When I left I noticed the sign next to the steps. It read, “No soliciting unless you are bringing a bottle of wine or offering to do laundry.” I appreciated the humor.