You cannot leave the parabolic story of the Good Samaritan without a firm grasp of who we are neighbors to. In this question, the emphasis falls on the object of our neighboring. In other words, who are we supposed to be neighbors to?
Have you ever wondered why Jesus chose to use a Samaritan? Why did He not simply use a lay Jewish man? The point behind why Jesus brings a Samaritan into the story is that He wants to squash the notion of only caring for people who are like us. This why a Samaritan is present in the story. Jesus intentionally uses opposites – a Samaritan and a Jew. Everyone would have expected the Samaritan not to give a rip about the Jewish traveler, and vice versa. Yet, precisely because a Samaritan man is helping a Jewish man, Jesus is attacking the idea that we only care about people like us.
You see, it is typical to think of our neighbors as people of the same social class, people of the same ethnicity and culture; essentially, people like us. We are inclined to naturally limit the range of people that we exert ourselves for. We do not mind helping and caring for people so long as they fit with me, so long as they are like me.
But Jesus will have none of it. He obliterates the idea that our neighboring, that our love and care has boundaries. For Jesus, our compassion does NOT have limits based on ethnicity, economic status, education, politics, and religion. To make it more personal: it does NOT have limits based on immigrant or refugee status. There are no outsiders in Jesus’ kingdom. Anyone at all in need is your neighbor. This is Jesus’ point.
If this wasn’t extensive enough, Jesus also pushes the boundary to include loving our enemies. This is surely what Jews and Samaritans were, but in the story, the Samaritan overcomes his animosity towards his enemy in order to compassionately care for the traveler. Put that into perspective as we consider the current immigrant debates and refugee crisis. What is one of the major deterrents for accepting Syrian refugees and others? Is it not because some of these people may be terrorists…and therefore our enemies who may seek to do us harm? How would we confront that reality in light of Jesus’ command to love our neighbors, to inconvenience ourselves for our neighbors, which includes our enemies?
So, let us repeat: our neighbor, the object of our love, is everyone. It includes those of every ethnicity, every socio-economic background, every sex, every age, every political party, every religion, and even those we have hostile histories with. These are the people we are to be neighbors to. Do we get this? We must because this is Jesus’ word to us right now.
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