Quaker Universalist Conversations

“Neighbor”

I think we tend to miss the point of the teaching story misnamed “The Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37).

Almost always our focus is on the people who passed by the “man who fell among thieves” and on the one who stopped, instead of on the framing questions by which Jesus signals the living spirit of the story.

A lawyer asks Jesus how to attain eternal life. When Jesus challenges him to find the answer in Scripture, the lawyer says to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.

He then asks Jesus the first framing question:

“And who is my neighbor?” (v. 29)

Jesus tells him the now familiar parable, how two travelers avoided the robbed and beaten man while a third treated his wounds, took him to an inn, and paid for his care.

Then Jesus asks the lawyer the second framing question:

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man…?” (v. 36).

The lawyer names the one who stopped to help.

Jesus says to go and do likewise.

Vine

I imagine the lawyer walking off down the road, stopping suddenly, and saying, “Wait a minute! He didn’t answer my question!”

Jesus defines “neighbor” as a verb, not a noun.

We aren’t allowed to choose whom to neighbor.

Whoever is next to us at the moment, that is the one.

 

Comments

Nice post. Neighbor as a verb – the one doing justice, loving kindness, and perhaps walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8). The more I learn, the more that I think Jesus really did not say much new….but expounded and continued the teach upon what was already the foundation. Perhaps I am just a slow learner.

Roy:
I believe that there are only “learners”. Speed is like one of those drugs we don’t talk about much. My life’s journey seems to be learning how to become “slow Friend”! Thankfully Mother Nature has helped me to do that as I’ve aged.

Mike:
Thanks for raising up the question of “who is your neighbor”. I am left wanting more answers. Are those people up the block my neighbors, too? What about those in the next county? or the next country? or the next continent? Does Jesus teach us how to treat them as well?

Does my question come down to “what is my neighborhood?” Mr. Rogers (of TV fame) seemed to imply that anyone who walked by his home was his neighbor.


Future Blog Idea:
Neighbor seems to be connected to the word “Community”. Friends claim it as one of our Testimonies. There seems to be so many uses of this term that is seems useless without an adjective as in “Human Community” or “Business Community”. Perhaps someone reading this blog could help us clarify this term as well for a future blog?

Friend Julia Ewen is the facilitator for the Atlanta Friends Meeting’s weekly bible study group. I thought the topic was dear to her so I sent her your blog. Happily, Julia has responded and asked that I post it for her. So here is a gift from Julia to the Quaker Universalist Conversations…
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It IS eye-opening to look at the framing questions:

Who is MY neighbor, the lawyer asks, but Jesus inverts the subject and asks :Who was the MAN’s neighbor. By doing so he causes the lawyer to think about the definition of neighbor—and the definition is defined by what one does, not by who one is, when the question is posed the way Jesus asks it. He changes the conversation from “who is my neighbor ” to ” whose neighbor am I”, and they are NOT the same thing.

(Puts me in mind of a bit from Lewis Carol, “You might as well say that ‘I say what I mean’ is the same as ‘I mean what I say.’)

Two of the three potential helpers are Jews, one a canon lawyer, the other a priest, who know the entire Torah and prophets, and the other is a Samaritan who does not worship correctly—in Jerusalem—and does not recognize any scripture beyond the five books of Moses, and the lawyer probably is thinking about the many passages re religious duties and rationalizations about why the Jewish “Torah wizards” may be justified in not touching the man, and the” impure ignorant” Samaritan attends to the man. Already not ritually pure, the Samaritan has nothing to lose by touching the man who is covered with blood, and it isn’t known if the man is a Jew or not, only that he is going from Jerusalem to Jericho. He may or may not be an ethnic neighbor or co-religionist of either the Jews or the Samaritan. So, the lawyer may be thinking, what does scripture say ought to be done and by whom?

Reframing the question cuts through all those issues to the heart of the matter: it is the one who DOES the Torah’s demand for mercy who is behaving as a neighbor, and it is behavior that defines righteousness and it is righteousness of that sort that defines membership in the community and thus defines one’s obligations to one another—obligations to help, to do what is in front of us.

I wonder what other questions in our life as a Friends community can benefit from reframing, inverting the order, standing a syntax on its head? (Perhaps I can mean what I say AND say what I mean using identical words even though “I say what I mean and I mean what I say don’t actually mean the same thing??”

Julia Ewen

When re-enacting this scene in a children’s program, another “turning of the table” occurred to me. From the perspective of the person who was beaten and bloody, the one who stopped for him was someone he likely would never have had anything to do with. Yet this was the person who showed him great kindness and care. How did that change the injured person’s perspective?

It raises the question for me – who do I consider “the other” who I would not expect to be open and kind to me? A white supremacist? A gang member? I have had remarkable conversations with both in prison AVP workshops. What would it take for this to happen in our “free” society?