The lawyer wanted to test Jesus: was he really the great teacher he was cracked up to be? So he asked him a tricky theological question. Jesus, however, turns it back to him - he's the lawyer, what does he think? The lawyer's answer is exactly what Jesus would have said, and Jesus commends him. However, that does not satisfy the lawyer. He accepts that it is important to love your neighbour; but there was an argument about who counted as your neighbour. Some said it was only fellow Jews. Others said your neighbours were those near you both in race and in religious observance - fellow Pharisees, for example. The rest could be ignored. What did Jesus think?
Jesus told a story - answering the question about the neighbour, and illustrating the nature of love. The actions of the priest and the Levite may not have provoked comment. They were important people, or they needed to maintain ritual purity and avoid contact with dead bodies, or they may have been in a hurry - for many reasons they may have been expected to ignore a half dead victim. The crowd would have expected Jesus to introduce as a merciful neighbour someone who was just an ordinary Jew. When he mentioned a Samaritan, there would have been shock, even anger; Samaritans had defiled the temple 20 years or so before, and were hated by every self respecting Jew. Moreover, the Samaritan's actions were far more generous than the situation required. That was love, and that was the neighbour!
The point was obvious, and Jesus drove it home - 'Go and do likewise.'
We too need to be clear about what it means to love our neighbour. Who is our neighbour? How do we love them? The story shows that our neighbour is the one within our power to love, and that love is a matter of caring and generously doing what we can to meet their needs. In this modern world there are many within our power to love, near and far. We are also aware of our need to care not just for individuals, but for organisations, communities, our environment - all these affect our neighbour as well as ourselves. God cares for the natural world, for the people he has put in it, for ourselves. He is glad when we care too, sad when we walk by on the other side.
Why is this the second most important commandment of all (Mark 12:31)? The answer of Jesus is that this and the command to love God underly all of God's commands (Matthew 22:40). God has made us spiritual beings, needing to relate to him - that's the reason for the first commandment. He has made us social beings, needing to relate to each other and to the natural world around us - that's the reason for the second commandment. Everything we do as social beings - our work, family life, leisure - can be inspired by this commandment. Love for our neighbour will not only inspire us to live well; it will also inspire us to do what we can to transform the world we live and work in, that all may know God's love and joy and peace.
ISSUES AND QUESTIONS
1) Who is your neighbour?
2) How does the command to love our neighbours as ourselves affect our involvement as Christians in:
other issues on your minds?
IDEAS FOR MEETINGS
Who in your life has been a memorable neighbour?
Focus on the world around (your 'neighbourhood') as follows:
Begin by saying, 'We know there are many things we don't like about the world, BUT we praise God for...' and let everyone finish the sentence one at a time, as many times as they wish. (Not everyone may want to say anything.) If the group likes singing, begin with a song praying for the world around and end with a song praising God for his creation.