Summary: The lawyer asks, 'Who is my neighbour?' We should not take 'neighbour' to include everyone! But Jesus' parable warns us against excluding people from the group of people we regard as 'neighbour'.
3 The Good Samaritan, Part 2
Note: this talk is the continuation of ‘1 The Good Samaritan, Part 1’, which is also available on Sermon Central.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the expert in the law in the story had two questions. His first question was, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ It’s a very important question!
Jesus’ answer, and Luke’s commentary showed us that:
Doing is essential for our salvation. Jesus told the man, ‘Do this and you will live.’
Doing means keeping God’s law. Jesus asked the man, ‘What is written in the Law?’
But we can’t be justified by doing! Luke commented on the man’s question, ‘But he wanted to justify himself’.
The expert-in-the-law’s first question was the subject of my first talk.
We now come to the expert-in-the-law’s second question. He asked, ‘And who is my neighbour?’
Jesus told a parable in answer. It shows that we must be careful not to exclude people from those we consider as neighbour. But before we get onto that, let us also take care that we don’t try to consider everyone as neighbour! It can end up having an unwanted effect!
In normal English, ‘neighbour’ generally means someone who lives near us. It doesn’t mean everyone in the world!
In the Bible, ‘neighbour’ has a similar meaning, but it is a little bit broader. It includes people we have a connection with, for example, because we have lent money to them or do business with them. We might not class people like this as neighbours, but the Bible probably would. But whether we take modern usage of the word, or the Bible’s usage, ‘neighbour’ does not mean the whole world!
It’s true, of course, that God loves the whole world. Therefore, if we’re God’s children we should love the whole world too. It’s also true that because we’re all nice people we want to be inclusive. So, we might wish to think of everyone in the world as our neighbour.
But if we take ‘neighbour’ to mean everyone in the world it doesn’t fit with the meaning of the word. ‘Neighbour’ doesn’t mean the whole world. And if we try to regard everyone in the world as a neighbour it’s likely to create a problem.
The problem is that we give attention to people far away who we have very little connection with and neglect people close to us who we do have a connection with. Someone even coined a term for this: ‘the Jellyby fallacy’. It’s the mistake of giving no special consideration to one’s kin. The name came from a character in a Dickens novel, ‘Bleak House’. One of the characters in the novel, Mrs Jellyby, is occupied with schemes to educate the natives of Borrioboola-Ghia, on the left bank of the Niger. Good so far. But in the process, she neglects her own children. Not so good.
This command, to love our neighbours, places a special obligation on us to love our neighbours. Of course, we may love people who are not our neighbours. But we cannot love them at the expense of loving our neighbours: people who live near us or we have a connection to.
However, that isn’t Jesus’ point in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. His emphasis is that we must not exclude people from those we consider ‘neighbours’.
The priest and the Levite passed by the injured man. Since Jesus is answering the question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ the presumption is that they didn’t help him because they didn’t see him as a neighbour.
Why might that be? We don’t know. But we can imagine at least three reasons.
One reason why a person might not see someone as a neighbour is that you don’t know him or her. Do you have to know someone in order to consider him a neighbour?
The priest, the Levite and the Samaritan didn’t know the injured man, and yet Jesus clearly expected them to stop and help him. So, you can’t say, ‘I don’t know him; therefore, I have no responsibility towards him.’
That’s the main point. But we may wonder, what placed a responsibility on the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan? What put them in the role of neighbour to the injured man? Simply the fact that they were in the same place at the same time. Let me give you an example. Last summer our daughter Sophie went to Cairo. While she was there, she sent me the following message:
'Hello Dad, something quite serious came up last night. I don't think she'd mind me telling you because you have no clue who she is. I was talking to one person who surprisingly trusts me a lot from the hostel and I found out she had cut herself yesterday and there was some stuff going on back at home. So I listened and stayed talking until I made sure that she won't do it again today because I will be at work. Anyways I didn't realize but I spent 4 hours with her and it was 1am at the end and too late to call you.'