Loving our Neighbours
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
The religious scholar answered and quoted Deuteronomy, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Then he quoted Leviticus 19, and (love) “…your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus answered and said, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
But the religious scholar wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”
It is helpful to read this Jewish scholars’ question in the context of the Old Testament. After God scattered people across the Earth (Genesis 11), He made a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12):
“Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation,and I will bless you; I will make your name great,and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you,and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
God singled out the Beni (decedents of) Israel with the covenant he made with them. And they dwelt in the land of Canaan. The other collective inhabitants living in the land had various names. The Beni Israel referred to them as other “peoples” sometimes translated “nations” in English. The Hebrew word was “goy” (go’-ee) and the plural was goyim. At the time, goyim was a neutral word. Given that the Beni Israel used this word to refers to everyone other than them, with whom God made a covenant, the goyim included the majority of people across the world.
While these people were not part of the Beni Israel, the Bible tells us of individuals who played an important and positive role in God’s outworking of his big plan. For example, many individuals who were not part of the Beni Israel are treated with great respect in the Old Testament accounts, like the daughter of Pharaoh who saved the life of Moses (Exodus 2:5-10) and Cyrus, king of Persia, who allowed the return of the exiled Jews to their land (2 Chronicles 36:21-23). In fact, a number of texts seem to challenge people among the Beni Israel to realise that goyim can teach them a great deal about how to serve God and act in life. For example, the pharaoh who was deceived by Abraham (Genesis 12:14-20) and Uriah the Hittite who acts more morally than King David (2 Samuel 11). In these ways, the stories teach us that people can be members of the Beni Israel even if they do not always act according to God’s will.
The strangers in the lands of the Beni Israel did not have the same religious and civil rights that the members of Beni Israel enjoyed. But, they were not subjected to injustice or abuse. The law combined him with a widow and an orphan who needed special consideration. Moses says that God, “defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner (Hebrew: ger = Arabic: جَار) residing among you, giving them food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:18). The law provided for the protection of the stranger from persecution and violence, for example Deuteronomy 24:14 says, “Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns.” God commanded the Beni Israel, “Do not hate an Edomite, because he is your brother. Do not hate the Egyptian, because you were strangers in his land” (Deuteronomy 23:7, see also Exodus 22:21).
Does one love foreigners as if they are his own people? Who is My Neighbour is a question many people are asking today in multicultural cities. Toward whom do I have responsibility?
In reply to the religious scholar’s question, “And who is my neighbour?” 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 neighbour 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 act likewise.”
God has charged us to love and serve, not to be superior to others. The apostle Paul said,
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation in love, if there is any fellowship with the Spirit, if there is any affection and compassion, make my joy full of being of the same mind, keeping the same love, united in spirit, and intent for one purpose.Do nothing out of selfishness or empty vanity, but humbly regard one another as more important than yourselves; look not only for your own interests, but also for the interests of others. God, he did not consider equality with God something to be comprehended, but emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and born in human likeness.He found himself in appearance as a human being, humiliating himself by his obedience to the point of death: death on the cross” (Philippians 2:1-8).
Let’s engage with people of all backgrounds with the peace and humility that come through Jesus.