Who is my Neighbor?
(features “The Parable of the Good Muslim”)

by Graham Pockett

Jesus taught us to love our neighbor as ourself (Matthew 22:39) but many people might wonder just who is a "neighbor".

In Luke 10:25-29, Jesus is confronted by an expert in the law: "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

When Jesus asked him what was written in the Law and how did this expert understand its interpretation, the man said: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' ; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

Jesus agreed but the man persisted in trying to trick Jesus by asking: "And who is my neighbor?"

The answer that Jesus gave was a parable, commonly called "The Parable of the Good Samaritan" (Luke 10:30-37).

This is the story of a traveler who was robbed and left for dead by his attackers. A priest saw the man but passed by on the other side of the road, presumably in order to maintain ritual purity. A Levite also refused to assist the beaten, half dead traveler. Finally a passing Samaritan stopped and gave assistance, going beyond even the normal assistance by offering to cover the expenses for the man as he recovered in a local inn.

What is often missed by modern readers of this story is the deep hatred that Jews felt for Samaritans in those days, and it is worth quickly looking at the cause of that hatred to place the parable in context.

“the tolerance that Jesus showed to Samaritans must have annoyed orthodox Jewry”

Samaritans lived in a kingdom in northern Israel (central Palestine) called Samaria. They were a group of Jews who broke from orthodox Jewry during the 6th Century BC and constructed a temple on the mountain Gerizim. They married non-Jews and were considered "half Jews" or of a "mixed race". Like most break-away groups throughout history, they were intensely disliked by the group of people they had left.

While they were hated by the average Jew during the First Century, it is interesting to note that Jesus and His disciples quite often went through Samaria and interacted with the Samaritans. There is the story about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-42). In fact, that story finishes with the comment that many Samaritans became believers.

The tolerance that Jesus showed to Samaritans must have annoyed orthodox Jewry, specially the ruling Priests, and I feel sure that this played a major role in their decision to convince the Romans to kill Him.

Today we use the word "Samaritan" in association with charitable groups but there is a group of people who call themselves Samaritans and claim to follow the ancient worship.

When Jesus spoke of the "Good Samaritan" He was citing an example of a group of people hated by those in His audience but, if He was telling that parable today, would it be "The Parable of the Good Muslim", or "The Parable of the Good Jehovah's Witness"?

If Jesus was teaching in a Muslim country (remember, He taught in places like Samaria so His message wasn't just for one group of people but for everyone) He possibly would tell "The Parable of the Good American", or even "The Parable of the Good Southern Baptist".

Here are some versions of the parable as Jesus might tell them today:

The Parable of the Good Muslim

    A Jew was going from Jerusalem to the Gaza Strip when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A rabbi happened to be going down the same road but, when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Muslim came where the man was and, when he saw him, he took pity on him. He gave the man first aid, dressing his wounds and stopping the bleeding. As soon as he was able to travel he took him to a nearby hospital. "Look after him," he told, "and when I return I will pay for any extra expense you may have."
The Parable of the Good American
    A Sunni Muslim was traveling from Damascus to Baghdad when he was attacked by thieves. They stole his wallet and his watch, beat him and went on their way, leaving him half dead. An Iman happened to be going down the same road but, when he saw the man, passed by on the other side. So too a Shi'a Muslim passed by on the other side of the road, ignoring him. But an American saw the man and took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds. Then he put the man on the backseat of his SVU and, ignoring the blood that stained his seats, took him to the nearest hospital. The next day he took out money to pay for his hospitalization. "Look after him," he told the hospital staff, "and when I return I will pay for any extra expense you may have."
The Parable of the Good Biker
    A businessman was going from Manhattan Island to Newark when he when he was mugged. He was robbed, beaten severely and left in the gutter, half dead. A Baptist preacher happened to be going down the same road but, when he saw the man, passed by on the other side. So too a Muslim passed by on the other side of the road, ignoring him. But a huge tattooed biker saw the man and took pity on him. He made him comfortable and called an ambulance. He then followed it to the hospital. "Look after him," he told the hospital staff, "and when I return I will pay for any extra expense you may have."
The parable that Jesus told should have been called "The Parable of the Good Acts of a Samaritan" because He was talking about how we should behave towards our neighbors (our acts of faith – James 2:14-26) rather than how righteous we are (or should be). You can do good acts and still be a sinner. The Samaritan in the story that Jesus told was not described as "righteous" or sin free, but an ordinary person who did a kind deed for a neighbor who most likely hated him.

Therefore, we could also have "The Parable of the Good Abortionist", "The Parable of the Good Child Molester", "The Parable of the Good Bank Robber", and "The Parable of the Good Serial Killer" because, like us, they are simply sinners who (I hope) still do good deeds for their fellow man. Although these are of moral origin, the perspective is the same as the cultural or racial examples we more commonly see.

A bank robber is not a bank robber 24/7 – at most times he is probably a "normal" person who does the same types of things as other "normal" people (takes his mother shopping, helps out a neighbor in distress, etc). We love to categorize people and put them into little boxes but we ignore the complexity of the human spirit. While we might deplore the acts of a bank robber (ie, robbing a bank), they are still our neighbors and we are commanded to love them.

In Matthew 5:28 Jesus reminds us there is no difference between someone who commits a "minor" sin (a man who ogles a woman who is not his wife) and someone who commits a "major" sin (to follow the example, a man who violently rapes that woman). Each of the people in the example above (the abortionist, the child molester, the bank robber, etc) are our neighbors, even though they don't always act in a "neighborly" way towards us.

Should you judge them? Would you see past the sin and love the sinner – as Jesus taught!

“the neighbor that Jesus talked about was anybody who is around us ... They are everybody who lives on our planet!”

As you can see from those examples, the neighbor that Jesus talked about was anybody who is around us – the people who live in our street, the people who live in our neighborhood, the people who live in our city, the people who live in our county or municipality or parish, the people who live in our state or province, the people who live in our country. They are everybody who lives on our planet!

They are the people we like, and people we don't like.

They are people who have a different cultural upbringing to us, they have a different skin color, a different shape to their eyes, a different language, a different belief system.

They are also, like us, sinners.

Like them or not, we are told to love our neighbors – and loving someone also implies forgiving them when they offend against us, or against our ideals or beliefs.

Always remember that Jesus told us that if we don't forgive people who offend against us then we cannot expect God to forgive us when we sin (Matthew 6:14-15). He also said that he who is without sin should cast the first stone (John 8:7).

If you are sinless then you have a right to criticize the sins of others. However, Paul summed it up nicely by stating that we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

Next time you see someone who looks or acts a little differently from you, who might have a strange haircut, who might not believe in the things that you believe in, then remember that they are your neighbor and you must not judge them, or criticize them, but love them unconditionally.

Let non-Christians see the light of Jesus shining forth from you; loving them, respecting them, and not judging them.

It's a challenge, but all things are possible for those who love the Lord.

Was Jesus a "Religious Lawyer" Too?
an e-mail question from Tom

I enjoy thinking of the parable as that of the "good Muslim." Jesus is so clever in dealing with the religious lawyer. If he were here today I expect he'd trick me into seeing the humanity in my minority neighbors despite my base instincts.

my reply to Tom

Why must it be a 'trick' if someone is showing you the humanity in your minority neighbors despite your base instincts? Maybe your 'instincts' are wrong, or mislead...

Jesus taught that we must (not 'should' but 'must') forgive people who offend against us – not just once, not just twice but, as He is quoted in Matthew 18:21-22, 'seventy seven times'. He also said, in verse 35, said that you must 'forgive your brother from your heart'.

Are there bad Muslims? Of course. Are there equally bad Christians, Buddhists, neo-Nazis and tax accountants? Of course. This isn't about one group being bad, but about bad individuals in the world. Even so, Jesus still said that we must forgive those bad individuals, not just once but 77 times (ie indefinitely).

We are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and all sin is the same in God's eyes (sin is sin – there are no gradients of sin). Therefore, in God's eyes the man who cheats on his income tax is just as guilty as the mass murderer, the driver who deliberately speeds is as guilty as the child molestor. It is man who allocates degrees of sin, not God.

So, in God's eyes, both you and I are just as guilty as those people responsible for 9/11, as the "Son of Sam", and as Adolf Hitler. Like all sinners we have the sacrifice on the Cross to cleanse our sins if we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior and follow what God requires of us (as per Micah 6:8).

Just don't forget that you will receive the same degree of forgiveness from God for your sins, as you forgive others for theirs!

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Graham’s Christian writing:
"Graham Pockett doesn't mince any words, but he writes with a kind heart. If you have questions about such things as "once saved, always saved", or why so many different ideas can come from the same scripture, or how much what we see and do affects us as spiritual beings, you'll find much to think about here."  from This Christian Life
Graham Pockett
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    Last Updated: Thursday, February 14, 2019