Defining “neighbor”

Most likely most of us are more-than-familiar with the following little exchange that occurred between Jesus and another man. The other guy has been referred to as an expert in religious law, a lawyer, as well as an authority of the law, among other things. Their conversation is recorded in the Gospel of Luke 10:25-28:

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”

Excuse me. Would you mind clarifying?
The expert in religious law hears Jesus’ response, but, apparently it was so “other” than what he’d expected, that he asks Jesus to explain further. Frederick Buechner tells it this way in his book Wishful Thinking. (The same was also printed in one of his other works, Beyond Words):

When Jesus said to love your neighbor, a lawyer who was present asked him to clarify what he meant by neighbor. He wanted a legal definition he could refer to in case the question of loving one ever happened to come up. He presumably wanted something on the order of: “A neighbor (hereinafter referred to as the party of the first part) is to be construed as meaning a person of Jewish descent whose legal residence is within a radius of no more than three statute miles from one’s own legal residence unless there is another person of Jewish descent (hereinafter to be referred to as the party of the second part) living closer to the party of the first part than one is oneself, in which case the party of the second part is to be construed as neighbor to the party of the first part and one is oneself relieved of all responsibility of any sort or kind whatsoever.”

Instead Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), the point of which seems to be that your neighbor is to be construed as meaning anybody who needs you. The lawyer’s response is left unrecorded.

What’s your response?

Here’s a response: Kate’s story about her husband, Tim
“Recently, while at the airport in Nashville, an elderly man was wheeled up to our departing gate by an airport employee and left near the boarding area. He sat there quietly for a few minutes before he abruptly asked the Southwest employee where the bathrooms were, so he could go before the flight. The employee, distracted and preparing to board the entire plane, muffled something without making much eye contact. The man looked around, discouraged and anxious. Next thing I know, Tim is quickly standing up to introduce himself and offering to take this man himself. I squirmed a little, concerned this would cause him to miss our boarding spot.

Not five minutes later, Tim and his new friend were wheeling back to the gate and happily chatting about Michigan lake life after a successful trip to the bathroom. Not everyone knows the tender, servant-hearted side of Tim like I do. I am so proud to call this man my partner, husband, and the best daddy to our little girl.”

So about the lawyer’s question again—who is our neighbor?
Consider this definition:

A man must not choose his neighbor; he must take the neighbor that God sends to him…the neighbor is just the man who is next to you at the moment, the man with whom any business has brought you into contact.
— George MacDonald

And about what Tim did—will we notice our neighbor?
It’s crazy, but true. None of us even have a chance of responding differently if we’re not looking around and seeing the person, as MacDonald put it, who is “next to you at the moment,” the person “with whom any business has brought you into contact.”

If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.
— Frederick Buechner, this time from his book Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter’s Dictionary

Let’s really see our neighbors, not just pass by on the other side.

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