One rainy Saturday, I stared out the kitchen window as I washed dishes. Another wave of tornadoes had ravaged small towns across the nation. The news was filled with dramatic stories, and I was weary. Weary of disasters, devastation, and more tears. Weary of the conflict that will not be resolved this side of heaven.
What does the Bible require me to do about this? To love God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love my neighbor as myself (Luke 10:27). This is much easier said than done.
The legalist inside of me answers back: But how many? How many do I have to help? Who is my neighbor? And just like the lawyer who asked Jesus who exactly his neighbor was (Luke 10:29), the legalist was given a story.
A New Neighborhood
A neighbor, to a Jew living in the days of Christ, would have shared ethnic heritage, religion, defenses, land and water access, and trade. He would have been obligated by the Torah to extend debt-forgiveness, hospitality, and other cultural favors not offered to outsiders. He would have had no such obligation to Gentiles or strangers. And yet even this idea of "neighbor" is far more intimate and invasive than ours today!
What comes to your mind when you hear the word neighbor? A grumpy man who complains about kids on his lawn? Fun friends who share a meal? Partiers who block your driveway? Nameless people who move in and out?
The question "Who is my neighbor?" for us today might be something more like "Who is my family?" We know we have intimate and invasive obligations to our moms and dads, brothers and sisters, spouses, and children. Yet in the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus is telling us that we, too, need to extend our circle.1