Who is My Neighbor?

Who is My Neighbor? By MICHAEL BROWN for The Stream

In the Torah, the Lord called the Jewish people to love their neighbors as themselves, expressed most clearly in Leviticus 19:18: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”

In the New Testament, Jesus reiterated that this was the second greatest of all the commandments, superseded only by the commandment to love the Lord Himself with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus actually said that, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

Who Exactly is Our Neighbor?

But who, exactly, is our neighbor?

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This was a question raised to Jesus by a Jewish Torah expert who, the text tells us, wanted to justify himself (Luke 10:25-29). But what, exactly, did he mean? How does the question of, “Who is my neighbor?” potentially justify our behavior?

This is an age-old question in Jewish law, as the rabbis wanted to understand the meaning of “your neighbor” in Leviticus 19. Does it mean fellow-Jews only? Does it mean Gentiles too? Does it even apply to one’s enemies? And how would this apply in Israel today?

It’s one thing to love my Jewish neighbor as myself. It’s another thing to love my Palestinian neighbor as myself, let alone a Palestinian terrorist. What does the Torah require?

Going back to New Testament times, commentator Joel Green notes:

As a consequence of Hellenistic imperialism and Roman occupation, it could not be generally assumed in the first century of the Common Era that those dwelling among the people of Israel qualified as ‘neighbors.’ Different attitudes toward these foreign intrusions developed into a fractured social context in which boundaries distinguished not only between Jew and Gentile but also between Jewish factions. How far should love reach? (New International Commentary on the New Testament)

Not surprisingly, based on a plain reading of Leviticus 19:18, Jewish legal scholars have generally defined “your neighbor” as a fellow Jew, although all people (aside from mortal enemies) should be treated with kindness. But it is only a fellow Israelite who should be loved “as yourself.”

Jesus Challenges With Parable of Good Samaritan

Jesus challenged this mentality and responded to the Torah expert in His famous parable of the Good Samaritan.

In this parable, a despised outsider, viewed by the Jewish community as a half-breed, is the one who shows compassion to a Jewish man who was beaten and robbed. In contrast, two fellow Jews, both of whom we could call “clergy” today, passed by their brother, not wanting to get their hands dirty.

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