Lately I've been thinking about the term 'neighbor', as in the Second Greatest Commandment (Mat 22:39): "You shall love your neighbor as yourself". In English, the word at a glance is obviously derived from 'neigh', which to my ear sounds very much like an old English term for 'near'. 'Neigh' is still occasionally used in that sense - a quick Google search for "neigh you" turns up a number of hits on James Darren's "Sophisticated Lady", though even by KJV times, 'nigh' appears to be preferred. A quick look at the dictionary pretty well confirms this (though there it is the Old English term neah). The Greek word here translated neighbor has pretty much the same type of derivation, coming from a word simply meaning 'near' (the Hebrew word translated 'neighbor' in Lev 19:18 doesn't seem to have near as simple a derivation, at least as far as I can tell from the Strong's dictionary - it comes from a word meaning to tend a flock. Anyone who understands how we get the concept 'neighbor' from that is welcome to jump in). 'Neighbor', then, appears to simply mean someone who is physically near you.
With that in mind, I'd like to turn to the classic parable defining the term 'neighbor' in Luke 10:30-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan.
One of the things that now strikes me about the parable is the way the priest and the Levite pass by on the other side. It's as though they realize that just being near the injured man incurs an obligation to him, and deliberately do what they can to try and not be near him, however contrived.
My second observation is that I'm beginning to wonder if we tend to get distracted by the degree of help the Samaritan gives to the injured man. He's certainly a high example of how to treat a neighbor, but the parable isn't given as an answer to the question "How should I treat my neighbor?" It's given as an answer to the question "Who is my neighbor?" By concentrating on the Samaritan's high example, I think we easily miss the simple, plain meaning of the word 'neighbor'. The Samaritan didn't become the injured man's neighbor by treating his wounds, he became the injured man's neighbor simply by coming near to him on the road of Life. His subsequent treatment of the man shows he knew how to love his (newfound) neighbor as himself in that situation. I think Jesus' followup of 'Go and do likewise." isn't just an instruction to follow the Samaritan's example in treating the downtrodden, it's an instruction to recognize that people become your neighbor merely by coming close to you as you tread the path of life.
Or to put it back into the context of the original commandment, the primary test of whether or not you are obeying the Second Greatest commandment isn't whether you are involved in helping the downtrodden 'out there' (as good as that may be). The priest and the Levite might be said to be 'loving their neighbors' in this kind of sense, as they do provide religious services which help their 'fellow man', but Jesus obviously considers them to have fallen short. The primary test of your (or my) obedience to the Second Greatest commandment is how you treat the people you encounter in the ordinary, everyday course of life - the people you live with, the people you work with, the people you meet on the street, in the stores, in restaurants, in church, and all the other places you go in life.