The Good Neighbor: Loving Like Jesus Loves
What is a Good Samaritan?
Good Samaritan. It’s a term that has become synonymous with a person who comes to the aid of others; someone who is a good neighbor.
There are organizations named “Good Samaritan” – like the Good Samaritan Society that offers help and home health care for seniors.
There are hospitals named “Good Samaritan” and there are ministries named after the Good Samaritan – like Samaritan’s Purse which is a humanitarian ministry that helps people. They provide disaster relief and other humanitarian relief including Operation Christmas Child – which is a program that sends shoe boxes full of gifts to children around the world at Christmas time.
When we think of a Samaritan, we immediately of someone who is good and kind and who goes out of their way to help another person.
But when Jesus first told this story, this definition was the farthest thing from what people thought of when they thought of a Samaritan.
Could a Samaritan Even BE Good?
Samaritans were people from Samaria. The people of Samaria were a mixed race and were considered ethnically impure and inferior. Jews – especially the religious leaders – went of their way to avoid any contact with Samaritans. They didn’t want to risk being contaminated by these corrupt people.
Jews considered Samaritans the bad guys, the lowlifes, the riff raff that no one should hang around with.
And Jesus makes this undesirable Samaritan the hero of his story.
We think of the story of the Good Samaritan as a nice story about a nice guy. It warms our hearts and makes us feel good.
But the Jewish listeners wouldn’t have felt this way. Instead, they would’ve been terribly offended by Jesus’ illustration. They hated Samaritans and would’ve been insulted by Jesus’ suggestion to follow the moral example of such despicable people. To suggest that a Samaritan was a better neighbor than a Jew? Scandalous!
Let’s take a look at the story Jesus told of the Samaritan who was good.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
Who’s My Neighbor?
Luke 10:25-37 NIV
25 On one occasion an expert in the law [probably a Scribe, a Levite, or a Pharisee] stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?” [Rabbis commonly answered a question with yet another question as a teaching technique.]
27 The religious leader answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But the religious leader wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Who’s NOT My Neighbor?
It may sound like this religious leader is really engaged, genuinely seeking to understand. On the contrary. The question “Who is my neighbor?” was really an attempt to limit who he treated as a neighbor. The religious leader expected Jesus to say some people were NOT his neighbor. Surely Jesus would get this.
In this ancient culture, people drew clear lines between different ethnic groups. Someone from a different ethnic group would obviously NOT be considered a neighbor. There were my people, my neighbors, and then there were the rest of them. And unfortunately, we often still draw the same lines between social groups, races, ethnicities and cultures when we consider who our neighbors are.
Therefore, the religious leader believed he was justified in excluding certain ethnic or social groups from his definition of “neighbor” and he sought Jesus’ approval of his position.
But Jesus didn’t reply as the religious leader expected. Jesus pushed back on that definition. He answered by telling a story that not only challenged their definition of “neighbor”, but probably completely shocked them.
A Missed Opportunity
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.
Robbers were common along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and people who traveled alone were particularly vulnerable. Since many people could afford only one set of clothes, stealing the clothes right off someone’s back was not unusual.
Verse 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
So, a priest and a Levite both had the opportunity to help this poor man. Instead, they just left him there.
What if we gave the religious leaders the benefit of the doubt? It’s possible that they assumed the man was already dead. Strict rules prohibited priests and Levites from touching dead bodies. Touching a dead body made them ritually unclean. If they were unclean, then they’d be unable to perform the duties they were likely on their way to perform. If the man was still alive, they could have helped him without being contaminated; but, if he turned out to be dead, they would be unclean. They didn’t want to take any chances, so they crossed to the other side of the road and kept going.
If this was the case, it might appear that the religious leaders did the right thing – avoiding contamination; but the point here is that in their effort to be religiously correct, they failed to fulfill God’s great commandment – to love.
Love God, love others (Mark 12:29-31).
They were so caught up in the traditional religious practices that made them look righteous on the outside that they failed to do the very thing that would demonstrate an inner righteousness.
In contrast to the unloving way the religious leaders’ treated the injured man, Jesus describes the loving actions of a Samaritan.
Verse 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. [This is about two days’ wages!] ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
The Samaritan set aside his own agenda, went out of his way, spent his own money, tenderly cared for this man’s injuries, and even provided for his future care. Wow! That’s amazing.
Will the Real Neighbor Please Stand Up?
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Oh, how those words must have choked that religious leader as they came out! He couldn’t even say, “The Samaritan” was the true neighbor. He had to say, “The one who showed mercy.”
And then Jesus told this Jewish religious leader to “Go and do likewise.” Basically, go and imitate this Samaritan. Can you see what a shock this would have been to him and to all other Jews?
Be a Good Neighbor
“Go and do likewise.”
Jesus’ words to the religious leader speak to us today as well. Go be a good neighbor. Show mercy to those who need it. Be kind. Welcome those who are hard to love. Stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. Cross racial and ethnic boundaries. Go out of your way. Be willing to be inconvenienced. Willingly sacrifice your own money for the sake of someone else – all things the Samaritan did when he helped the helpless man laying by the side of the road.
Be like the Samaritan.
A Tale of Two Neighbors
Helping When it’s Less than Convenient
Years ago, shortly after my first son was born, we lived next door to a family with three kids: a baby girl the same age as my son (10 months old), a 6 year old boy, and a 15 year old daughter.
Every once in a while, I watched the 10 month old and the 6 year old for a little while. The little ones would play together on the floor, while the six year old colored at the table or played with play-doh. I played board games or built puzzles with the 6 year old while my son and his sister napped.
One night about 10:30 or 11:00, my neighbor called. She asked if she could bring the two younger kids over. They were on their way to the police station with their 15 year old and didn’t want to bring the little ones with them. The man across the street from us had been giving their teenage girl and her friends drugs and alcohol in exchange for sexual favors. He was arrested and the girls involved had to go in to give statements.
And so, the 6 year old slept in our living room in a sleeping bag and the 10 month old slept in a port-a-crib. I slept on the couch in case one of them woke up.
Helping When Others Won’t
As a result of his actions, the man from across the street ended up spending a few years in jail. Because we don’t sin in a vacuum, his wife suffered too. She was left to care for their two children by herself. She came and went from her home without waving or talking to any of the neighbors. Her eyes never made contact with anyone. She was ashamed. And none of the neighbors made any effort to talk to her. She was a pariah. Ostracized and alone.
Winter came. One afternoon following a particularly heavy snow, I saw her out in her driveway after work shoveling the end of her driveway. She just worked a whole day, picked up her kids from daycare, probably didn’t even have dinner with her kids yet, and here she was shoveling her driveway – with no help, all by herself . So I grabbed my shovel, walked over and started shoveling. We didn’t talk. She didn’t even look at me. We just both shoveled side by side until the driveway was clear. She thanked me and then quickly disappeared inside the house.
It was an olive branch… a “Hey, I see you”… a small step toward “I care about you and I’m not going to leave you out there all alone.”
Who are the ostracized in your community, your neighborhood or social sphere? Who are those deemed not worth helping? What steps can you take to be the one who reaches out to help?
Love is an Action
Jesus tells us, “Love your neighbor.” Mark 12:29-31
Love is not just an emotion. It’s not just a warm feeling we hold in our hearts. What good does it do to just feel love for those around us if we don’t do anything to demonstrate that love? How would it have helped my neighbor who needed someone to watch her kids late at night or my neighbor who was silently suffering the shame of her husband’s crime?
James 2:15-16 says,
“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”
What good does it do to wish them well but do nothing? That’s not real love.Real love does something. Love is an action. Click To Tweet
Love your neighbor.
Recognizing Your Neighbor
Who is your neighbor? Is it the person who lives closest to you – those people who live on your block? Of course.
But in our globally connected society, our neighbors can also be people all over the world. Anyone.
Jesus’ story demonstrates that our neighbor is anyone God puts in our lives. Anyone we come in contact with is someone we can show love and mercy to.
The lady at the grocery store.
The guy at the post office.
The people in our city: the homeless, the immigrants, the school children and the business people.
Anyone in need that we are in a position to help is our neighbor.
We’re called to be a good neighbor whenever and wherever we are needed. Neighbors can come from surprising places.
The world would have a very different opinion of us as Christians if we could be less concerned with looking religious and more concerned with fulfilling the second part of the great commandment:
Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12:29-31
The world would have a very different opinion of Christians if we backed up our good intentions with action.
Let’s love like Jesus loved. Let’s love like the Samaritan in Jesus’ story.
- Go out of your way to show kindness.
- Step in to help those who are in need.
- Don’t be afraid to cross racial and cultural boundaries to build bridges.
- Help those who others would avoid.
- Be flexible – allow God to interrupt your agenda to love someone who needs it.
- Be patient with people who rub you the wrong way.
- Love those who seem hardest to love.
- Care for those who are lonely, sick, or hurting.
Be the Samaritan. Be the good neighbor.
How will you love your neighbors today? Who will God put in your path? What will you do when God gives you the opportunity to love outside the box?
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