The word translated neighbor in Luke 10:27,29,36 can be found a total of 17 times in the New Testament. We find it in Matthew 5:43; Romans 13:10; Ephesians 4:25. The word means a friend; one person in a party of two; or to a Jewish person in Jesus day, a fellow Hebrew. But in the parable of the good Samaritan, Christ enhanced the word’s meaning by indicating that being a neighbor involves relating to an individual with practical kindness, regardless of that person’s race, nationality, social status, or religion.
Let’s consider the setting for this parable. One day an “expert in the law” approached Jesus and asked Him what he needed to do to receive eternal life. The Lord responded by asking the man what was written in the law and what was his understanding of what he’d read there. The legal expert replied by reciting the two greatest commands—those mandating love for God and love for one’s neighbor. Jesus affirmed this as correct (see Luke 10:25-28). But then, “wanting to justify himself,” the legal expert “asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (v. 29). In response Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan—and strikingly, He never really did answer the man’s question. Instead He reframed the issue in an entirely different way.
Here was the original question: “Who is my neighbor?” (v. 29). After Jesus shared the parable to describe various ways a person in need might be treated, He asked the legal expert, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” (v. 36).
The legal expert wanted to know who was his neighbor and who was not, apparently because he wanted to be obligated to other people only to a very limited degree. Jesus instead showed him—and us—that everyone has an obligation to be a neighbor to others. The Samaritan met the needs of a hurting man. Neither his race nor his nationality mattered—just his needs. “Go and do the same,” Jesus said (v. 37).
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