Who Is My Neighbor?
‘YOU ask me, “Who is my neighbor?” Why, it’s whoever lives next door, of course! And the ones who live down the street, the ones in the neighborhood. They’re my neighbors.’
Not according to some who lived in the time of Christ Jesus. Even then there was a difference of opinion. This becomes apparent when we consider the conversation between Jesus and a man versed in the Jewish Law, recorded in Luke 10:25-37.
“Teacher, by doing what shall I inherit everlasting life?” the lawyer asked.
“What is written in the Law? How do you read?” Jesus asked.
“‘You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole strength and with your whole mind,’ and, ‘your neighbor as yourself,’” the lawyer answered.
“You answered correctly,” Jesus said. “Keep on doing this and you will get life.”
But the lawyer was not satisfied to leave it at that. So he then asked: “Who really is my neighbor?”
The Jewish scribes, contrary to their own Mosaic Law, said in their oral traditions: “You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” The scribes and the Pharisees taught that only Jews who kept the oral law were neighbors. Jews who failed to do so, and all Gentiles, were not viewed as neighbors but as enemies. Such heretical Jews and the Gentiles were not to be helped even if their lives were in danger. With this in mind, and to justify himself for not loving all men, the lawyer asked: “Who really is my neighbor?”
In answer to the question, Jesus gave the illustration of the Good Samaritan (Samaritans were viewed as foreigners and were hated by the Jews).
“A certain man,” Jesus said, “was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among robbers, who both stripped him and inflicted blows, and went off, leaving him half-dead.” A priest saw the man and went by on the opposite side of the road. A Levite saw him, and he did the same. “But a certain Samaritan traveling the road came upon him and, at seeing him, he was moved with pity.” He treated his wounds, took him to an inn, paid for his care, and told the innkeeper he would come by on his return journey and pay any additional charges.
“Who of these three,” Jesus then asked the lawyer, “seems to you to have made himself neighbor to the man that fell among the robbers?” The lawyer replied: “The one that acted mercifully toward him.” So Jesus told him: “Go your way and be doing the same yourself.”
The priest was supposed to be a worshiper of Jehovah. Likewise the Levite. Yet both passed on the other side. Neither one was a good neighbor to the man in need. The Samaritan, scorned and rejected by the priest and the Levite and their religion, was the one who responded. He was moved with pity by the man’s plight, and he went to his aid. He made himself a neighbor to the man. He acted neighborly.
Who Today Proves to Be Your Neighbor?
Today we think of neighbors as those living near us. The Greek word ple·siʹon, translated “neighbor,” basically means “near.” The Bible, however, in both the Hebrew and the Greek Scriptures, views neighbor in a much broader sense.
The scribes and the Pharisees of Jesus’ time limited “neighbor” to those who kept the oral traditions of their religion. Hence, they restricted their neighbor love to their fellow religionists. However, the love of Jehovah and Jesus went out to everyone. (Matthew 5:43-48) So must the love of true Christians today. To be Christians in more than name only, they must make themselves neighbors to all men and show neighbor love to all.
When the Samaritan made himself neighbor to the victim, did it stir up the victim’s love for the Samaritan? We are not told, but it should have. Similarly, when Jesus came to earth and died for mankind, he, in effect, made himself a neighbor to them. Did this bestir men to love him and draw near to him? Did Jehovah’s love for the world of mankind, shown by his sending his Son to earth as a ransom, cause men to draw close to God? For many it did and still does. “We love, because he first loved us.”—1 John 4:19; John 3:16; James 4:8.
In what way is this love shown? Not by saying “Lord, Lord,” but by doing God’s will, by witnessing to others about Jehovah’s Kingdom. (Matthew 7:21; 1 John 5:3; Isaiah 43:10-12; Acts 1:8) It is the only real and lasting help for today’s suffering humanity. Those who, like the neighborly Samaritan, are moved with pity by mankind’s sad and endangered condition, and who bring to them the healing good news of Jehovah’s Kingdom—they are the ones making themselves neighbors to all people. None are excluded—male or female, young or old, rich or poor, any nationality, any race, any religion, any skin color—all are viewed as neighbors to be helped by the Kingdom good news.
Out of love for neighbor, Jehovah’s Witnesses have for many years been heeding the command at Ephesians 4:25: “Speak truth each one of you with his neighbor.” Millions have responded and have themselves taken up the proclamation of this truth. It is truth about Jehovah’s Kingdom under his Prince of Peace, Christ Jesus. It is truth that brings peace between neighbors. Best of all, it is truth that brings “the peace of God that excels all thought.”—Philippians 4:7.