Who is my neighbor?

The rally cry of “Black Lives Matter” has been answered by some with “All Lives Matter.”

The rally cry of “Don’t Separate Families” has been answered by some of those same people with “It’s not like they’re American.”

Which is it? Do all lives matter? Or do only some lives matter?

With the increasing tribalism we are seeing in America, this matters more than ever. But it’s not a new question. Ecclesiastes 1:9 ends with “there’s nothing new under the sun.” And so it shouldn’t surprise us that this question we are grappling with was also presented to Jesus.

The story begins with an expert of the law asking Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. As Jesus often did, he turned the question back to the one who asked it.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He 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’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10: 25-28)

The man clearly knew the law, and Jesus simply charged him with following it. But the man asks a follow-up question:

 “And who is my neighbor?”(Luke 10:29)

Who is my neighbor? Who do I need to love as myself? Who matters?

Jesus answers with the following parable:

 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. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 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. The next day he took out two denariiand gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10: 30-37)

The word neighbor, both in the first century and today, is often limited in its definition but through this parable, Jesus works to broaden our understanding of the word. Several months ago, I heard an episode of the Kingdom Roots podcast with Scot McKnightin which he and a graduate student discuss this parable. In this episode, they explain there was a law in the Torah forbidding priests from touching a dead body unless it was a body of someone nearest of kin lest they become ritually unclean and impure. The priest and the Levite saw this seriously injured man as they passed by, but because of their commitment the law, they did not stop to help, instead crossing the road to avoid him. Some may argue Jesus overturned this law through this story or that he was demonstrating that the love command overrides all other commands. But a strong argument can also be made that he was instead broadening the understanding of “nearest of kin.” In essence, Jesus was saying that the man on the side of the road, a stranger to the priest, Levite, and Samaritan, was a neighbor deserving love.

So what does that mean for us today? As we are dividing ourselves into smaller and smaller tribes, there are many opportunities for us to choose who should and shouldn’t be our neighbors. Now more than ever we need to be willing to ask ourselves tough questions. If I am Democrat, am I willing to love a Republican as myself? And if I am a Republican, will I love a Democrat as myself? As a Christian, can I show my Muslim neighbor love? Do Black lives matter? Do immigrants matter? Do criminals matter?

The answers seem obvious to me. What do you think?

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