Sunday, December 18, 2005


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.


Theresa Coleman said...

t's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?...

It's a neighborly day in this beauty wood,
A neighborly day for a beauty.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?...

I've always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.
I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.

So, let's make the most of this beautiful day.
Since we're together we might as well say:
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?
Won't you please,
Won't you please?
Please won't you be my neighbor?

Anonymous said...

Rev. Mommy, very nice. Mr. Rogers was a Presbyterian minister, I understand.

Oloryn, again, a bull's eye. I stress to people over and over, that the fulfillment of the Law is love, and that we are to love the people that are close to us, that we meet in daily life.

One other comment involves Jesus choosing a Samaritan as the "hero of the story."

I've heard people say that Jesus' choice of a hero was like choosing a Hell's Angel or a Black Panther as the hero.

No. The Samaritans were hated because they were like heretics. Half Jewish/half Gentile. They accepted the Torah (as I remember), but had an alternative place of worship. The hatred was based on being something like polluted Jews, heretical Jews.

If Jesus were telling that parable in the United States today, the "Good Neighbor" would have been a Jehovah's Witness or a Mormon.

How would that go over in an evangelical church today, a Jehovah's Witness as the hero?

If that doesn't express whether Jesus thought doctrinal correctness or behavioral correctness took primacy, I don't know what does.

Oloryn said...

If Jesus were telling that parable in the United States today, the "Good Neighbor" would have been a Jehovah's Witness or a Mormon.

In "Red States", yeah. In Blue States, the Good Neighbor would probably be someone like Newt Gingrich or Anne Coulter.

Anonymous said...

Like any good, religiously oriented intellectual, you constantly bring the religious and the political into view.

Have you read Jim Wallis' "God's Politics"? I only started it, but I do get the gist of his thesis from previous encounters with his work: poverty, justice, equality are all Biblical themes which conservative churches ignore.

How do you deal with this neglect? Do you go into Isaiah and Jeremiah with people at church?

Joxua Luxor said...

It has to do with an old metaphor from Egypt for the divine right to rule. the Crook and the Flail. Those that recognized the Authority of reason get the Shepherds Crook. they could gently be brought "near". The shepherds crook was synonymous with gentle persuasion through reasoned argument. The goats on the other hand only recognize the authority of physical violence and therefore got the flail or whip.