Lesson Two – Identifying One’s Neighbor

Identifying One’s Neighbor

Lesson Aim:  To show that no one is excluded as our neighbor where mercy is needed.

Scripture:  Luke 10:25-37.

Historical Analysis for reading the Parable.

Place:  Perhaps in the Jerusalem area because of the geography Jesus used to set up this parable.  Also, Jesus visited Mary, Martha and Lazarus who lived in Bethany, a village very near Jerusalem.  Luke made it sound like Jesus’ visit to their house was convenient for His tour.  Luke 10:38; John 11:1.

Occasion:  Jesus had recently expanded His mission of preaching the kingdom of God by sending out seventy more preachers.  He was rejoicing with them upon their return (Luke 10:1, 17-20).  Jesus appeared to have felt He had come to a pivotal point in His work of preaching (Luke 10:21-24).  He was happy because God’s word was freed from the Jewish leaders and made available to “babes.”  In fact, one part of the mission of the preachers was to “tread upon serpents and scorpions.”  This gave Jesus the opportunity to pronounce several “woes” upon the same.  Please read Luke 10:1-24 to understand the historical and literary context for this parable.

Time:  Because Jesus was still in the organizational stages of His mission on earth, the time may have been in the first year of His public work.

Audience:  A certain testy lawyer was the specific audience; however, he was probably the spokesman for many others who wanted to justify their religious behavior.  Jesus’ disciples must have enjoyed the tension generated by this confrontation between their Teacher and the self righteous Pharisees.  They knew Jesus would leave them, as usual, with “pie on their faces.”  Also, Jesus’ disciples and the “babes” would learn more about the culture of the kingdom of God.  The Samaritans may not have been present but Luke, more often than the other gospel writers, included Jesus’ references to them in his gospel.

Aim:  Jesus gave the parable in answer to the self righteous lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor.”  Jesus gave a forthright answer to the question but this was not His aim.  He knew the lawyer knew the answer to his own question.  Jesus shocked him by publicly un-covering his real problem.  In order to understand Jesus’ aim we will want to remember the Pharisees were not in league with the first two characters that walked past the man in the ditch in Jesus’ story.  The lawyer would not have expected the priest and the Levite to be a neighbor to the man.  Jesus set up His hook for the lawyer when the next man who came down the road was not a Pharisee but a Samaritan.  Since Pharisees hated these people the lawyer’s question was no longer the issue.  Now the issue is prejudice.  The Pharisee wanted to establish his righteousness (satisfy the Law by loving your neighbor) by giving alms.  Jesus established the deeper problem of prejudice.  The lawyer was a “respecter of persons.”  See James 2:1; I Pet. 1:17.  He had the universal problem that continually robs the world of peace.

Hook:  The lawyer’s intention was to publicly disgrace Jesus; however, Jesus caused a Pharisee to publicly acknowledge a Samaritan was a neighbor to the man who had been beaten and robbed.  You can image what took place at the next meeting of the lawyer’s colleagues.


Even though Jesus changed the issue from “Who is my neighbor” to the deeper problem that has brought about the destruction of universal brotherhood, we will study the former issue in this lesson.  The word “neighbor” as it is used in the story of the Good Samaritan is translated from the Greek word “he plesion.”  It means, “the one near or close to.”  It can be understood in two ways.  If we are thinking in the technical sense, it describes the physical proximity of people.  The other meaning involves interpersonal relationships and mercy.  Jesus used the latter to explain how to keep the Law.


Jesus had been asked a question by a certain lawyer.  This led to a discussion of the word “neighbor” from the Law of Moses.  The question was, “Who is my neighbor?”   The occasion for Jesus giving the aforementioned parable was not presented to answer the question, but He did.  Jesus showed how the word “neighbor” was used in the quote from Leviticus 19:18.

The Law stated that you should love your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus wanted it understood how “neighbor” meant more than living next door or being close by physically.  It means an intertwinement of lives.  It means we live our lives in a manner that overlaps the lives of those about us.  Naturally, when people need help Christians will be aware of it because, as Jesus taught in His Sermon on the Mount, we are meek merciful mourners who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  The parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates this point.  It gives meaning to the word “neighbor” the way God used it in the Law.  It is very important for everyone to clearly understand this command because as Jesus said, “On these two commands depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”  Matt. 22:40.

Jesus replied and said, ‘A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went off leaving him half dead.’  Luke 10:30

A priest and a Levite passed by.  They were neighbors to the man who was injured in the technical sense only.  They were in the same place on the road at the same time; however, this did not make them neighbors in the way Jesus wanted it understood.   The Samaritan gave the true meaning of the word “neighbor.”

But a certain Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him, and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  Luke 10:33, 34

The Samaritan lived his life in an awareness state of people around him.  If he had met someone who was rejoicing, he would have rejoiced with him or her.  In this case he encountered, that is, he was the “one near or close to” the man who was injured.  He was a compassionate person.  The word “compassion” means to have a sympathetic consciousness of other’s distress and a desire to alleviate it, if possible.  This attitude must be within a person before he or she will be a neighbor in the true sense of the word.  Christians will be a neighbor when we come close to people who need mercy.  First of all we are aware of the presence of others and we do what we can to help them.  We are compassionate.  We are neighborly.  We fulfill the Law in this regard (Rom. 8:3, 4).

Who is my neighbor?  This really is not the question.  The question is this, do I have compassion?  Assuming we have the means to help, we may have “heart trouble” when we can pass by people in distress without showing mercy (I John 3:17, 18).  We may not be capable of being a neighbor according to Jesus’ definition of neighbor.  Just living next door does not make us a neighbor nor does helping people without loving them (I Cor. 13:1, 2).  It is possible to have a false notion we are a neighbor because we do kind deeds.  Now the question is, “What are the motives for my acts of kindness?”  Jesus gave us a way to test ourselves to see if we have the qualities of a true neighbor.

And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you.  But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’   Luke 14:12-14

Although the foregoing parable was presented in a different context than the parable in our text, it serves to show the importance of motives.  See Part I, Lesson Four for the context.   We may sometimes wonder about the value of loving our neighbor; especially, as ourselves.  Jesus has promised us that a true neighbor will be rewarded at the “resurrection of the righteous.”  There is something in it for us when we are a neighbor, although we may not even get a “thank you” from the people we help.  Of course, Christians presently enjoy spiritual growth and happiness in our lives when we are valuable to people in need.  Love is developed within us as we love, if we expect nothing in return from the one we loved.

Now the question is how do I develop my heart and mind so I hunger and thirst for righteousness?  The answer is, we practice being a good neighbor.  Even though the subject at Judgment will be deeds, Christians think about developing the kind of heart that wants to do good deeds and be happy at the same time.  Consequently, Jesus commands exercises for the church that will help others and ourselves, simultaneously.  Being a neighbor is character building and it helps the needy.  See Part II, Lesson Four.

Unless we fulfill the requirements of the Law of Moses we cannot expect to enter the eternal kingdom of God.   See Matt. 5:17-21; Rom. 8:3, 4; 13:8-10.  The whole Law is fulfilled by those who love God above all else and our neighbor as ourselves.  Finally, the question I may need to ask myself is, “To whom am I a neighbor?”

Questions for Discussion

  1. Explain how the word “neighbor” can be understood in two ways.
  2. What was the motive behind the question the lawyer asked Jesus in our text?
  3. What was the reason for giving the parable about the Good Samaritan?
  4. In what sense was the Samaritan a neighbor?
  5. What attitude did the Samaritan have that qualified him to be a neighbor to everyone?
  6. Who can we claim as our neighbor in the way Jesus taught?
  7. What is a sure sign a person has the emotional qualities to be a neighbor?
  8. What type person could not be a neighbor?
  9. How can the lesson from the parable in Luke 14:12-14 help us determine if we are a neighbor?
  10. Why is it important for Christians to be neighbors in the way Jesus defined the word?

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