Jesus was asked this question by a lawyer who wanted to justify his own life when he heard Jesus say, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It is commonly asserted of lawyers that they want good ideas and laws applied to other people but not themselves, and that they are well acquainted with searching for loopholes. The truth is we all have a little lawyer in us.

So to answer the lawyers question, Jesus told what we commonly refer to as the “story of the good Samaritan.” To summarize a man is traveling down the road and gets beat down by some robbers. It is a violent scene as they take all his possessions and leave him naked to die in disgrace. Two religious men of the same race and culture of the man who was left to die pass by without helping. They intentionally went to the other side of the road to avoid contact – to avoid the hassle of helping someone – to avoid the personal cost of involvement.

But a third man comes along – of a different culture and a different people – he is a Samaritan (half Jewish, half Gentile – hated by both). He helps the guy by cleaning up his wounds, giving him a ride on his mule, and taking him to a hotel to recover. He pays all the injured man’s expenses, and tells the hotel manager, “put any other expenses on my tab.”

Now these 2 men did not live next to each other, they were not of the same race or culture, they had no connection other than their common humanity and that one of them needed help and the other had the ability to help. So we see the answer to our question: our neighbor is anyone we have the ability to help. This presents us with tremendous opportunities and increased complexities as our world is more connected than ever. Though we have answered this question, we have created two more: which neighbor do I help, and how can I best help my neighbor? Check back for more posts on this and other subjects.

To read the biblical record of the good Samaritan see Luke 10:25-37
The painting is by He Qi – one of my favorite artists – you can visit his gallery.