Neighbour Love (Luke 10.25-37)

To a question of a lawyer of the Jewish law about inheriting eternal life, Jesus answers him with another question about the teaching of the law on inheriting eternal life. The scholar of the Jewish law answers by saying one should love their God and love their neighbour. Jesus appreciates him for giving the right answer. When he asks him to go and do this, the lawyer asks Jesus another question, “Who is my neighbour?” (Lk. 10.29).

Doesn’t the scholar of the law know who his neighbour is? Of course, he knows who his God is, and who his neighbour is. According to Leviticus 19.17-18 neighbour means a fellow Israelite or a fellow member of the covenant community. However, the law to “love your neighbour as yourself” is extended to include the resident alien or resident foreigner (Lev. 19.33-34). Therefore, for a Jew, a neighbor is a fellow Jew and a resident foreigner. A Jew knows who his neighbour is. So there are set boundaries or limits to a Jew’s duty or neighbourly love.

The lawyer is confident that he has fulfilled the commandment. So in order to “justify” – to show himself righteous and acceptable to God – he asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?” (Lk. 10.29).

To this question, Jesus answers with a question after telling the parable of a compassionate Samaritan, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” (Lk. 10.36). The lawyer answers correctly, “The one who showed him mercy” (Lk. 10.37). This means by doing your duty or by doing your loving act you easily discover who your neighbour is. He/she towards whom I have a duty or an obligation to show neighbourly love is my neighbour, and when I fulfill my duty I prove that I am a neighbour.

Jesus does not speak about recognizing your neighbour, but being a neighbour yourself, about proving yourself to be a neighbour, as the Samaritan did by showing compassion.

Finding a friend or a partner is a hard and time-consuming job. But finding a neighbour or recognizing a neighbour is easy – if you yourself recognize your duty and be a neighbour.

Samaritan in the parable knew his duty when he saw a wounded person lying by the roadside. His compassion, not the identity of the wounded person, moved him to act. Identity of the “wounded person” is immaterial for neighbourly love. A neighbour is unlike one’s spouse or friend. A spouse or a friend is chosen on the basis of preference – education, complexion, social status, economic status …. However, a neighbour is not someone of higher social status, and you love him because he has higher social status. Or a neighbour is not someone of inferior social status, and you love him because he is inferior to you. No, a neighbour is every person, for on the basis of preference or distinctions he/she is not your neighbour. He/she is your neighbour on the basis of equality with you before God.

The fundamental equality in love lies in the category of neighbour. The one who is in need and the one who responds to the need come under the category of “neighbour”. Thus, there is horizontal relationship between both of them. This relationship is unlike the relationship between patron, the one who “gives”, and client, the one who “receives”, in the Greco-Roman society. Here the relationship is vertical, and because of that the client is obligated to the patron and the patron has power over the client. This is not so in the relationship between “neighbours”, where neighbourly love binds them. Both the “giver” and the “receiver” are neighbours and so are equal.

In a sense neighbourly love is blind. Perfection in the object (i.e. to whom you show neighbourly love) has nothing to do with perfection of love. Precisely because one’s neighbour has none of the attributes or credentials which the spouse, friend or an admired person may have. For that very reason love to one’s neighbour has all the perfections which other “loves”, such as love towards spouse or love towards a friend, do not have. Love to one’s neighbour is the most perfect love. It is determined by love and no other criteria. Since your neighbour is unconditionally every person, all distinctions are removed from the object of love. Your neighbour is absolutely unrecognisable between one person and another. It is eternal equality before God.

To love one’s neighbour, therefore, means essentially to will to exist equally for every human being without exception. Then whether you meet a rich person or a poor person, an educated or an illiterate, belongs to same religion or not, belongs to same caste or not – whatever his/her “outer garment” may be – you see them unconditionally equal – as neighbour.

Same Road, But Different Roads

Life is metaphorically compared to a road (Mt. 7.13-14; Ps. 1.1; Jer. 21.8). When life is compared to a road, the metaphor expresses the universal, that which everyone who is alive has in common by being alive. To that extent we are all walking along the road of life and are all walking along the same road. But when living becomes a matter of truth, then the question becomes: How one ought to walk along the road of life. The important thing is, not the road of life, but the road one walks along the road of life. In other words, the road is how the road of life is walked. This road is unlike the physical road. The physical road is external to the person who is walking on the road. However a person walks – whether keeping his head high or low, joyfully or sorrowfully, fast or slow- the road remains same and the road exists. But not the road of virtue. We can not point to the road of virtue and say: There is the road of virtue. Road of virtue does not exist outside of a person. The road of virtue exists only when a person walks on the road of virtue. We can only show the road of virtue by walking along the road of virtue, and if anyone refuses to walk along that road, he is walking along another road.

All the five persons – traveler, robbers, priest, Levite, and Samaritan – walked along the same road, i.e. the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. But each one walked his own road. The highway makes no difference, it is the spiritual – how they walked the road of life – that makes the difference and distinguishes the road.

In the parable, the first man was a peaceful traveler who walked along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, along a lawful road. The second man was a robber (robbers) who walked along the same road, but on an unlawful road. Then a priest walked along the same road, saw the wounded traveler, but walked on a road of indifference. The Levite came along the same road, he too saw the wounded traveler, but walked on a road of indifference. Finally a Samaritan came along the same road, saw the wounded traveler, and walked on a road of mercy. He showed by example, how to walk along the road of life. The Samaritan demonstrated the road of a neighbour.

Therefore, a neighbour is determined by how a person walks along the road of life, or along which road he/she walks the road of life.






Charles E. Moore, ed., Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard (Farmington, PA: The Bruderhof Foundation, 2002).


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