Who is my neighbour
What is love?
The power of love
Just as impure love inflames the soul and brings it to desire those earthly and perishable goods which make it also perish, plunging it into the abyss, so holy love raises us to heavenly things, inflames it with the desire of eternal good, urges it toward those goods which will neither pass away nor perish, and from the abyss of hell raises it to heaven. All love has its own power nor can love in the soul of the lover be idle; it necessarily urges on. Do you wish to know the quality of love? See where it leads
An expansive love
Now we see how the love of God stretches itself over all men. This is testified to not only in his word, but also in the whole of nature. The heavens are given to all men. They cover all men; they are mine and my neighbors’. The sun is mine and my brother’s. The greatest as well as the lowest man lives under the same sun, in the same air, on the same earth and by the same water.
We are to treat our fellowman as God treats us. God himself gave nature as an example, that we are to be of the same mind to all men and not to love anyone more or less than another. As he is minded toward us, so we are to be minded toward our neighbors, and as we act toward our neighbors, he will act toward us. He testifies in our hearts to convince us how he is minded toward us. We are to be so minded toward our neighbor.
The challenge of love
The Good Samaritan
The declaration “Hear, O Israel, Yahweh our God is one Yahweh” (Dt 6:4). Shema comes from the first Hebrew word of the verse, sh’ma, “hear”. Verses 4–9 make up the whole of this foundational biblical truth. While several translations of verse 4 are grammatically correct, the Lord’s words in Mark 12:29 correspond most closely to the one given above. Religious Jews recite the Shema three times daily as part of their devotional life; no Sabbath worship is conducted in the synagogue without its proclamation.
Within the Shema is found both a fundamental doctrinal truth and a resultant obligation. There is an urgency connected to the teaching: the word sh’ma demands that the hearer respond with his total being to the fact and demands of this essential revelation.
The Shema summarizes the heart of God’s covenant with His people. Yahweh alone is Lord, and covenantal faithfulness to Him involves every part of one’s being: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut 6:5 NIV).
What lies at the heart of the confrontation with the lawyer, then, is a clash between two quite different visions of what it means to be Israel, God’s people. The lawyer’s question about the key requirements for entering the age to come was a standard rabbinic question, to which there were standard answers available. His own summary is exactly the same as that which Jesus himself gives in Mark 12:29–31 and Matthew 22:37–40. But what he had in mind was the way in which the law provided a definition of Israel.
A group of people who believed they were the true descendants of Israel and keepers of the Torah. During the time of the New Testament, their chief religious site was Mount Gerizim. The Samaritans believed that the Jerusalem temple and priesthood were illegitimate.
the Samaritans took their name from the phrase “keeper of the law” (שמרים, shmrym).
Holding the Jerusalem temple to be a false cultic center and excluded from the inner courts by the Jerusalem authorities, a group of Samaritans desecrated the Jerusalem temple in approximately AD 6 by spreading human bones within the temple porches and sanctuary during Passover. Hostility toward Galilean Jews traveling through Samaria on the way to Jerusalem for various feasts was also not uncommon (Lk 9:51–53), with the massacre of a group of such Galilean pilgrims occurring in Samaria in approximately AD 52.
In the Torah “map” of people, priests and Levites head the purity list. Purity/Pollution. Samaritans are not even included. The priest and Levite would avoid contact with a naked and therefore presumably dead body. A priest could touch a corpse only to bury immediate family (cf. Ezek 44:25). The fact that the injured man had no clothes would make ascertaining his social status difficult.
A Samaritan traveling back and forth in Judean territory may have been a trader, a despised occupation. This is suggested by the fact that he possesses oil, wine, and considerable funds. Many traders were wealthy, having grown rich at the expense of others. They were therefore considered thieves. They frequented inns that were notoriously dirty and dangerous and run by persons whose public status was below even that of traders. Only people without family or social connections would ever risk staying at a public inn (see Oakman 1987). Inn.
Both the victim and the Samaritan were thus despised persons who would not have elicited initial sympathy from Jesus’ peasant hearers. That sympathy would have gone to the bandits. They were frequently peasants who had lost their land to the elite lenders whom all peasants feared. The surprising twist in the story is thus the compassionate action of one stereotyped as a scurrilous thief.
The priest and Levite
Then came the real question. If ‘loving my neighbour’ was part of one’s duty as a good Jew—i.e. part of the boundary-marker that meant one would inherit the age to come, the blessing in store for the covenant people when Israel’s god established the kingdom—then how was ‘neighbour’ to be delimited? If one started from the apparent purpose of Torah, to define the boundaries of Israel, then there would appear to be a natural, and quite limited, definition of ‘neighbour’.
The lawyer’s question and Jesus’ answer don’t quite match up, and that’s part of the point. He wants to know who counts as ‘neighbour’. For him, God is the God of Israel, and neighbours are Jewish neighbours. For Jesus (and for Luke, who highlights this theme), Israel’s God is the God of grace for the whole world, and a neighbour is anybody in need. Jesus’ telling question at the end isn’t asking who the Samaritan regarded as his neighbour. He asked, instead, who turned out to be the neighbour of the half-dead Jew lying in the road.