To See My Neighbor

To See My Neighbor

When Jesus is asked the question, “Who is my neighbor?” he responds with his famous parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The question is not asked in good faith. We’re told that the questioner, an expert in Jewish law, wants to test Jesus and to himself be declared right and justified in the process. So “who is my neighbor?” really means “who is not my neighbor?” The questioner wants to know whom he is allowed to exclude. He wants to draw an imaginary line around himself and let certain people into his life while keeping others out. But the parable of The Good Samaritan (Samaritans being a perceived enemy among the Jews of Jesus’ day) answers him by saying, Your neighbor is whoever reaches down to rescue you in your state of helplessness, even if they had to step over your imaginary line to do so.

This interaction takes place because Jesus and this law expert are conversing about The Shema, both agreeing that the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) is just as essential as The Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) itself. Leviticus 19 as a whole commands Israel toward a deep faithfulness to our brothers and sisters, but also to those who unexpectedly enter into our lives from unfamiliar ethnic and economic backgrounds. The Israelites are not to harvest 100% of what their farmland yields just in case some homeless and hungry wanderer passes by the edge of their land, and thus will have something to eat too. Israel is commanded here also to show the utmost hospitality and mercy to strangers and immigrants, to treat them as a fellow brother or sister. These Israelites, people of the Exodus, know all too well what it’s like to not have a homeland, what it’s like to be treated with hostility by the hosting nation, so they are commanded to begin a new and merciful way of relating to the outsider. Long before Jesus told his most famous parable, Leviticus 19 was preparing us for “Samaritans” to step over our imaginary lines and become a neighbor to us.

To love my neighbor as myself is to see my neighbor as I see myself, to see my neighbor as I want God to see me, with unfailing mercy, kindness, compassion, generosity and hospitality. Every command in Leviticus 19 ends the same way: “I am the LORD.” God is eager to cap every command by drawing our attention back to him, because every way in which we can love a neighbor finds its source in the heart of God. Leviticus 19 is not good advice for keeping the peace, but is revealing the love and nature of God. The oneness of God (affirmed in The Shema) cannot bring about any result other than the oneness of humans as well. And every loving, kind, compassionate move we make toward a neighbor is a move toward God as well. That’s why Jesus and the New Testament feel that the Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19 are such perfect partners.

God is disarming the defenses we put up against each other, because separateness from each other is separateness from God. May we see each other the way God sees us, with unfailing mercy, kindness, compassion, generosity and hospitality. And in doing so, let us be remade in the image of God.


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