It’s such a convenient question, isn’t it?
A young lawyer comes to Jesus asks him what the most important commandments are. In response, Jesus says, “The most important commandments are to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself”.
‘But the lawyer wanted to justify himself’, says the gospel writer What does that mean? It means that he knew he wasn’t keeping the commandments, perhaps especially the second one, and he wanted to find an excuse. More than that – he wanted to preserve his right to continue in his disobedience! Maybe there were all kinds of people in his life he would have preferred not to love – Samaritans, for instance, or tax collectors, or plain ordinary sinners who didn’t come up to his exacting moral standards. And so he asks Jesus for a clarification: “Who exactly is my neighbour?”
The point of that question, if you think about it, is to find out who you’re allowed not to love.
But Jesus doesn’t believe there’s anyone in the world we’re allowed not to love. In the Gospels he calls us to love our brothers and sisters, to love our neighbours, to love the poor and needy, and even to love our enemies. There’s no escape from the command to love.
And so Jesus refuses to answer the question about the neighbour. Instead, he tells the story we call ‘the Good Samaritan’. A man was attacked by robbers and left bleeding and unconscious on the side of the road. But he wasn’t dead. Who would stop to help him? A priest and a Levite went by on the other side. But a Samaritan (if you want the same impact today, read ‘a Muslim’) stopped to help him. “So who was a neighbour to the man in need?” Jesus asked. The answer is obvious: the one who showed him mercy. “Go and do likewise”.
So don’t waste time asking yourself who you’re allowed not to love. Immigrants? Refugees? People who voted for Donald Trump? Rednecks? Communists? Somalis? Syrians? First Nations people? Settlers? Sorry: you’re under orders to love all of them. So don’t waste time asking “Who is my neighbour?” When you see someone in need, don’t hesitate: if it’s in your power to help them, do so. “Do this”, Jesus says to the lawyer, “and you will live”.