Throughout both the Old and New Testaments this idea of ‘the neighbour’ is almost always placed at the forefront of Christian ethics. Encompassed by The Golden Rule to treat others as you wish to be treated, on the surface, showing love for one’s neighbour is not a complicated concept to understand. However…
Who is this neighbour?
What constitutes neighbourly love?
And, for whatever reason, can I refuse to call someone my neighbour?
These are all valid questions. The Parable of the Good Samaritan has an answer for all of them. Here is a link to the New Revised Standard Version translation of this parable from Luke: Luke 10:25-37 NRSV - The Parable of the Good Samaritan - Bible Gateway.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
The road from Jerusalem to Jericho - on which a Jewish man was walking when he was stripped, robbed and beaten - was notoriously dangerous. The man, bloody and weak, was passed by a priest and then a Levite, both of whom belonged to the same religious faith as he. Neither of them stopped to help the man. Instead, on seeing him they moved to the other side of the road. In 1970, Latané and Darley identified three separate psychological processes that can cause apathy among bystanders witnessing a crime or person in distress:
1) diffusion of responsibility - the assumption that your duty to help is reduce as the number of fellow bystanders increases.
2) evaluation apprehension - fear of adverse judgement from others or the expectation of finding yourself in equal danger if you were to intervene.
3) pluralistic ignorance - the interpretation that because no one else is intervening, neither should you; it’s not an emergency.
Despite the man on the road being a Jew and, thus, by definition, their neighbour, evaluation apprehension caused the priest and the Levite to turn their backs on him. Being a dangerous road, they may have feared for their safety believing that the robbers would return and see weakness in them for helping the man; equally, they may have feared that the man himself was a robber deceiving their good nature, a nature which they both chose to undermine as a result of this apprehension. The Samaritan, on the other hand, was not so swayed by his fears. For context, Samaritans were the descendants of pagan immigrants and Israelites who many considered to be spiritually destitute, making Samaritans heretics in the eyes of the Jews. In other words, these two men were not neighbours.
When a lawyer asks Jesus to explain “who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:29 NRSV), in telling him the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus makes it clear that ‘neighbour’ does not merely mean friend, nor someone of the same race, religion, or nationality. Neighbourly love is not situational. The Samaritan may have been fearful for his own safety, however, he helped the stranger anyway. The risk involved in helping someone is never greater than the worth of the life you may be saving. And, just like the beaten man, our own survival may one day depend on a stranger and our salvation on how we chose to treat the strangers we encounter ourselves.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan, a story told directly by Jesus, is one of the most powerful accounts of selfless love in all the New Testament. It is not insignificant that this type of altruism is being shown between strangers. Our neighbours are not merely those who we already know, or the people we love unconditionally; they are the stranger on our shores and the people who deserve to be shown love even when it seems that no one else will help them.
Three Calls to Action
Please be sure to read our new Everyday Theology blog discussing Prince’s 1987 song The Cross: https://www.movement.org.uk/blog/cross-prince. Focusing on the song’s links to food poverty, we look at how faith can bring people hope even at the darkest of times.
Read some of these prayers from Faith and Worship about the importance and simplicity of loving your neighbour as yourself: Christian Prayers about loving our neighbors (faithandworship.com).
Join with the Refugee Council's Message of Hope Campaign and send a message of kindness to an Afghan refugee spending their first winter in the UK
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