The Bible passages here are quoted from the KJV because it is in the public domain and therefore free to publish, but it would be helpful to read and compare modern translations as well.
Luke 10:27-37 (KJV)
27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
John 4:9 (KJV)
9 Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.
The first passage is from the Gospel of Luke and is well known as ‘The Parable of the Good Samaritan’. As John’s Gospel affirms, the Samaritans and Jews did not associate with each other, so why would Jesus use the example of a Samaritan to be the neighbour of the enquiring Jew?
Before we answer this question it is necessary to look at the context of this passage.
A lawyer comes up to Jesus and is seeking to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus throws the question back to him and asks him what he reads in the Law (talking about the Law of Moses). To the lawyer’s credit, he actually provides a satisfactory answer. The lawyer says:
‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.’
That is an excellent summation of the Law of Moses: loving the Lord God completely and loving one’s neighbour as oneself.
Jesus affirms that this lawyer is right in his understanding, by telling him ‘this do, and thou shalt live’. It is within this context of the words that give us life that the next question comes. It’s a question we’ve all asked. And it’s a clarifying question. The problem with this sort of clarifying question is that there is an underlying motive behind it. Luke makes it explicit ‘willing to justify himself’. Isn’t that a powerful phrase?
‘And who is my neighbour?’
The lawyer is asking this question with a narrow focus in mind. He thinks he’s got the loving the Lord part OK (which isn’t really true, because we can’t love God and persist in being hateful to our neighbour). Now, in his mind, all he has to work out is what loving his neighbour means, or rather who his neighbours are.
Because Luke tells us that the lawyer was ‘willing to justify himself’ we can see that the lawyer is asking who is my neighbour to work out whom he doesn’t have to love.
Jesus absolutely shatters this kind of thinking in His response with the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
Don’t ask who is my neighbour to get out of loving other people. Rather, ask how can I be a neighbour by loving everyone.
The parable has so many different people from all different backgrounds mentioned. And who is the person from the one particular group that would make this lawyer’s blood boil? That’s right, the very one Jesus tells him to follow the example of. The Samaritan.
The lawyer can’t even bring himself to say ‘the Samaritan’, instead he settles for ‘He that shewed mercy on him’. The Jews viewed the Samaritans as unclean for their background.
To answer our earlier question of ‘why would Jesus use the example of a Samaritan to be the neighbour of the enquiring Jew?’ It may be concluded that Jesus wanted the man to be a neighbour by loving everyone. The lawyer thought he could love the Lord and love a select group of people who fall under the definition ‘neighbour’. We often think like that too.
It is necessary that we move towards love, where we seek less to justify ourselves and seek more the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus and His righteousness. We are free to treat everyone with the love that Jesus has loved us with. The love Jesus showed us is supremely displayed in His death and resurrection to reconcile us to God. Loving like the Samaritan is evidence of the love you have received from the Lord Jesus.
So let’s not ask who is my neighbour with a narrow focus to exclude others. Let’s ask how can I be a neighbour with an inclusive view to love everyone.
An example of how you might apply this, as a Christian, would be sharing the Gospel (the saving message of Jesus’ death and resurrection and how that reconciles people to God) not only to those people you have to, but to everyone. Without hearing this amazing news and placing our trust in Jesus, we are destined to spend eternity in hell, being punished for our sins. How important it is for us to tell other people, so that they too may trust in Jesus and be saved. Rather, than picking and choosing which neighbours to share this with, we should tell everyone.