"But He's Not My Neighbor"

It seems to me that we have, perhaps, inadvertently reversed the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Jesus’ point in the parable is that our neighbor is anyone in need. In order to make this point clear, he tells the story of the Samaritan coming across a man who was beaten and robbed. Even though this man was culturally his enemy, he takes action and helps.

Jesus’ point is: don’t let yourself off the hook of the command to love your neighbor as yourself by limiting it only to a narrow group of people. Love even your enemies, do this sacrificially (as the Samaritan did), and be willing to risk (as it was a dangerous road).

I think precisely because of this parable, few people in the world who are familiar with the teaching of Jesus would be callous enough to walk by a person bleeding on the side of the road. Or, if they did, they would know it was deeply wrong (unlike the religious people in the parable, who apparently didn’t even get that).

But that’s only half the point. In fact, I would suggest if that’s all we get from the parable, we’ve totally missed the point — even if when presented with the exact circumstances of the parable, we would stop to help.

The reason is this: we don’t very often come across people who are bleeding on the side of the road. So how does the parable apply to us the rest of the time?

I think we’ve inadvertently taken the parable and restricted the meaning of our “neighbor” in the other direction, thus doing the very thing Jesus is forbidding. We’ve come to think that our neighbor is only a person in extreme need — the person bleeding on the side of the road.

But what about the person who is not bleeding on the side of the road, but has other, much smaller but still very real needs?

We tend to just pass on by. “He’s not my neighbor — my neighbor is the person bleeding on the side of the road.” And yet it never crosses our mind to say, “Hmm…; isn’t it strange that I’ve never actually come across such a person in my entire life?

Jesus told this parable to teach us something that is to apply to us every single day of our lives. He gave an extreme example to counter the common notion of the day that limited the scope of who we are to love. But then we’ve strangely seized on the example he gave and limited the meaning of “neighbor” in an entirely different direction, to mean only those in extreme need. That was not Jesus point.

Overlooking seemingly “small,” everyday, and ordinary needs is also a great sin. Your neighbor is not just the person in extreme need, but the person right before you at work, in your neighborhood, in your community. Your client, business partner, employee, co-worker, person who comes off the street into your business asking for directions, or person who attends your church and has a concern. Anyone and everyone who has any need is your neighbor.

If you think you’ve got it together because you don’t pass by people who are beaten up on the side of the road, but overlook issues of everyday need in the people right before you, you are missing it.

And don’t we all need to hear this? I know I do.

So, let’s get with it. Let’s about the world with our eyes and ears open to seek out, identify, and meet all types of needs that the people have whom God brings across our paths. Let’s ditch this notion that our neighbor is only someone in extreme need. Let’s be proactive in meeting less extreme needs as well.

And, as we do that, then we will be truly obeying the point of the parable, even if we never literally come across someone beaten up and bleeding on the side of the road.

And, we just might come to see that this seemingly “small” needs aren’t quite so small after all.

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  • DudeFaceOfAmerica

    Although the illustration of the story is general, isn’t the context of Jesus’ main point the community of faith? Our neighbor, as far as I can tell, in every instance of Scripture is referring to those within the community of faith, even though we are also exhorted to generally “do good to all men”.

    • Matt

      Wow, sorry to be so blunt, but I think you’ve just taken the very position Jesus was seeking to refute! We are not to restrict the meaning of neighbor. That’s why the neighbor here was a Samaritan, whom the Jews of the day despised. Our neighbor is anyone who is in need, including our enemies. Not everyone is our brother or sister, but everyone is our neighbor.

  • JuliusAfricanus

    Wow, I always thought the point of the story was to make you realize that we don’t love our neighbor. The lawyer seeking to justify himself asked Jesus who his neighbor was and Jesus showed him how he falls way short of God’s standard. This also seems to be foreshadowing Calvary. Jesus is the true good Samaritan. While we were still enemies of God Jesus died for us.

  • David Atkins

    From Luke 10

    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.

    This story was told by Jesus in response to the question, ‘Who is my neighbor?”. Jesus response was that we are the neighbor, and so we should respond as a neighbor to those around us.

  • Matt


    Can you clarify a bit? It sounds like you are forgetting about the third use of the law and the fact that we are required to obey the teachings of Christ.

    In other words, the fact that the commands of God show our utter sinfulness does not mean that we are not also to seek to obey them — especially now as Christians, to whom Jesus said “if you love me, you will obey my commandments.”


    • JuliusAfricanus

      Hi Matt,
      I am by no means an expert in this but you said, “Jesus’ point in the parable is that our neighbor is anyone in need.” then you go on to say, “But that’s only half the point. In fact, I would suggest if that’s all we get from the parable, we’ve totally missed the point” then go on to say what the scope of loving our neighbor should look like. I would disagree that the third use of the law is the primary and only focus of this parable. I would say that the second use of the law is more in sight here or maybe even election being the primary focus. The guy gets up to ask what must he do to inherit eternal life right after Jesus got done saying that the Father chooses whom he reveals these things to and that he hides them from the wise. Then the guy is seeking to justify himself and asked whom his neighbor was. The sorrounding context would dictate that this passage is not about a believer “press(ing) on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” but the impossiblity of one earning their own salvation thus pointing to the second use of the law and the necessity of divine election.

      • Matt


        Thanks for your further thoughts. I would certainly agree that a major point here is to show us our sin. However, as Christians, this does not undercut the fact that we are actually supposed to do what Jesus says. I’m still not hearing that from you.

        I’d maybe ask it this way: So, if you’re walking down the road and you see someone beaten up on the side, does Jesus actually want you to help or not?

        Or, more to the point of my specific post here, if you come across someone in need of encouragement or $5 or something small, does Jesus want you to help them?

        My concern is that in our zeal to uphold the second use of the law, we end up forgetting about the third. Jonathan Edwards, who was no slouch in relation to the second use of the law, got this balance very well, and his book Charity and Its Fruits is an excellent example of what I’m talking about.


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