· Neighboring,Christianity,Life

Three times in the Gospels, Jesus narrows the 10 commandments down to two. In Matthew 22:34f, Mark 12:28f, Luke 10:25f.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.


Love your neighbor as yourself.

Neither of them was listed in the 10 commandments in Exodus 20. But each one of the original 10 commandments fits under the heading of either "Love God" or "Love your neighbor."

Love God:

  • You shall have no other gods before me.
  • You shall not make for yourself a carved image.
  • You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  • Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

Love people:

  • Honor your father and your mother.
  • You shall not murder.
  • You shall not commit adultery.
  • You shall not steal.
  • You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  • You shall not covet your neighbor's [stuff]...

Jesus said: On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. - Matthew 22:40. Those two commandments were crucial to Jesus's teaching.

In Exodus, our behavior toward others is described as what we're not to do - the ways in which we could hurt or slander or destroy others.

In the Gospels, the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 is typically the passage we go to in thinking about loving our neighbor - it's such a familiar passage that easily loses its clarity. Recently, I looked at it again and saw something new about neighborliness.

In the account, a lawyer pressed Jesus about the Law and eternal life. Jesus pressed him back. The man knew the Law - he quoted the two great commandments. Jesus told him to go live them. The man pressed further: "who is my neighbor?" He didn't ask: "how do I live those commandments" or "what does as yourself mean?"

Who is my neighbor? 

What a self-evident question! Everyone knows who their neighbor is: those who live near us.

Jesus, unstymied, gave a surprising answer. He told a story. He described the violence done to an unknown traveler. A stranger. The stranger was in a bad way: he'd been robbed, stripped, beaten, left for dead. A wounded stranger on a road somewhere wouldn't meet the usual definition of "neighbor," right? What was Jesus getting at?

Another stranger came upon the wounded man. Instead of seeing the dire situation and rushing away knowing that he himself could be in danger, Jesus says he saw him, he had compassion on him, and then took care of him and got him to safety. And he went further, he saw to the stranger's ongoing care. It seems so straightforward: the guy noticed the man in need and did something about it. And went on his way.

There were other men in Jesus's` story. They saw the wounded man, crossed the road and rushed on - perhaps fearing for their own safety. That's perfectly understandable. Someone has been robbed and beaten here - the robbers may still be around - I'm getting out of here! BUT as a priest and Levite, they both knew the teaching of levitical law: to love a stranger (sojourner) as themselves. "You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:34)" They knew what God would have them do but they crossed the street and walked away.

I'm not sure of the significance of the Jesus's casting the good guy in His story as a Samaritan - to His audience he would've been an outcast - an enemy - one of them. The Good Samaritan presumably was without levitical instruction, but nonetheless, living out love. One can almost imagine his imagining that this wounded man could be him lying there - what would he want someone to do for him? Instead of being governed by self-protective - and logical - thinking (this could happen to me - I'm getting out of here!), he was governed by compassionate thinking (this could be me - how would I want to be treated?).

Jesus turned the question back on the lawyer: Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor?

He said: The one who showed him mercy.

Jesus replied: You go, and do likewise.

Jesus said the Good Samaritan was the neighbor! The neighbor wasn't the wounded man - recipient of the help - but the guy who helped! I've always thought the parable meant that the injured man was the neighbor, hence, all people are our neighbors in some way. But - no - Jesus was getting at something different. I think He was saying that our neighboring doesn't arise from our relationship with known people. Our neighboring is who we are and what we do - for anyone.

The act of seeing and having compassion and responding in mercy was what made the Samaritan a neighbor. Not vague pity - but purposeful mercy. In so doing, he treated the stranger as he'd want to be treated. He was loving him as himself. He was being a neighbor to a stranger.

The question we must ask is not is this person my neighbor, but am I this person's neighbor? If I'm to obey Jesus's commandment, my neighboring isn't determined by the physical boundaries of my property. It is far broader. It extends as far as I do. Love broadens the boarders of my responsibility. It quickens my attention. It fires my compassion. It fuels my response.

Being neighborly: It's not just who I am - it's what I do.

Loving my neighbor has to be more than a vague platitude.

More than a cross-stitch piece on the wall.

I'm a called to be neighbor!