Who is My Neighbor?

Christians know the two greatest commandments as loving God with all your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself. These two commands were Jesus’ summation of the whole Torah (Matt. 22, Mk 12, Lk. 10). Of course, if these were summations of the Torah, they must be derived from there.

The first comes from Deut. 6 and is called sh’ma by Jewish people to this day, meaning to hear. It is an active, participatory hearing, a calling to action. The second comes from Leviticus 19 and verse 18. While these may seem a bit obscure, the link between the two is the same Hebrew word v'ahavta meaning, you shall love.

"you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" Deut. 6:5

"you shall love your neighbor as yourself" Lev. 19:18

What I find interesting is that Christianity often interprets these passages through the scope of post-modern, western individualism. It is perhaps perceived that when the word you is employed, it is talking to me or them on an individual basis. While it is true that a community is made up of individuals, the context of the passage is the Lord speaking to Moses and telling him:

Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, 'You'… Lev. 19:2

“You” here refers to all the congregation (v. 2) This was not about the individual. You (cumulative Israel) shall love your (cumulative Israel) neighbor (someone other than cumulative Israel) as yourself (cumulative Israel).

Why does this matter? It matters because of what they were being told in verse 18, love your neighbor as yourself. Meaning, to love those who were not part of the congregation of Israel, as they loved their own people. While in rabbinic usage neighbor most often refers to a fellow Israelite, I don’t think the cumulative you of the context supports this. Jesus even made mention of this elsewhere:

"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" Matt. 5

This is a big deal, loving people who are not one of us or like us is not an easy thing. If Jesus’ response to the question Who is my neighbor? were examined in its rabbinic context, you would hear Jesus’ in brilliant rabbinic methodology say through story (parable, Lk. 10) that everyone is your neighbor, your worst enemy and even the person who you may despise the most. In their case it was a Samaritan, and in the story it was he who was doing the right thing, while the Priest and Levite who were supposed to be the representatives of the God of Israel were disregarding the weightier matters of the Torah.

They were more concerned about keeping lesser commands of cleanliness than the second greatest, loving the neighbor, who in the story was a fellow Israelite, maybe even a fellow priest or Levite. The priest was going down to Jericho, meaning away from Jerusalem, which of course meant that becoming defiled (coming into contact with a dead or dying person) would not have interfered with the priestly roles. The laws of mercy were not enough in Jesus’ story to persuade a helping hand, as also goes for the Levite, who was even in a lower position. Jesus’ answer would have offended his audience and struck at the heart of Jewish patriotism.

For Jesus’ listeners, those despised included the Romans, who oppressed and ruled over them, the Hellenists who were trying to bring in Greek culture, education, entertainment etc. and eradicate the traditionalist ideology, the Zealots who were consumed with revolt and revolution who used whatever means necessary to bring it about (terrorists) and the Samaritans, the hated rivals who would kill Jews (and vice versa). All fall within the interpretation of those who Jesus said one must love. Of course, this comes down to an individual level, but the context of Lev. 19 and Jesus’ words in Luke 10 are a group of people (in this case Jews) loving other peoples (nationalities, nations, gentiles) outside of their own ethnicity or culture. This would have been an immensely hard saying for his listeners considering the atrocities perpetrated on the Jews.

I’m not much into politics, although almost everything is political in nature. But does this sound like anything we have been hearing in the news recently? What is the response from the people of God?

Does Christianity which stems from Judaism and the teachings of this Jewish Rabbi really adhere to the words of its progenitor? What is the Christian response to people who may be culturally different than us, or even a perceived threat? Do we love them like we love those who are one of us? Christians are either living according to the words of Jesus or not, there is no middle ground. People are watching the actions of many who claim to be in Christ and are realizing that they don’t believe it at all. It’s no wonder the younger generation wants little or nothing to do with it, they have little to no example. Love. No exceptions.


Dawn McLaughlin83 said...

So Shaun, I hear you advocating to love--always. No exceptions. Hmmm

What about the teacher who tells us there is a time for everything? You know the list.
What about our God who commands wars and extermination of entire people groups? Is this love? No exceptions. Did Jesus sweep away such things with the story of the Good Samaritan? Perhaps I am missing something.
How then does one love those who worship and follow violence such as the Islam group who follows Sharia law? The very ones wrecking havoc everywhere right now much like a great plague of old.
I really have a problem with this kind of message in these times which pretty much leaves out a lot of the story. We are to be wise as well. Is it wise to love the cobra that is raised up and poised to strike--to kill? Is it wise to allow an unrestrained mixing of those who hate anyone who is not committed to Allah? God told His people NOT to mix with the pagans.

A collective ideology depends on individuals to do it.

Now is it wise to give benefit of doubt when such a one comes with a genuine desire for help? Perhaps but the Koran specifically says lies and deceit are permissible to kill the infidels. Tricky indeed.

You don't have to be into politics but God did set up civil courts for men. He gave us judges. Politics is a fact of life. We elect to have a leader in this county. To refuse to be any part of that, including simply being informed is to stick ones head in the sand. The God-fearing folk need to have a voice there as well. How can we lead if we refuse to take part?

It comes down to a battle of light and dark but we must be discerning and wise and seek God's counsel always. Jews are not the only ones suffering but they sure have been made an example of. Seems to me that God tells us Himself that until His people return to Him, they will continue to suffer. Chose life=blessing. Chose death=cursing.

Just think there is a lot more to the story than to love. No exceptions.

Shaun Rufener said...

Dawn, I hear you sister. I have wrestled with this for a long time. You bring up a plethora of subjects, which are also on my mind:

-God’s genocidal instructions in the OT and how this relates to his nature
-Jesus’ and his relation to the Torah and any type of eradication (if any)
-modern reaction to threats in our world
-preemptive and preventative measures for protection

I am not sure I can do justice to these massive topics, but you raise valid questions. My point was more an attitude toward other people groups. This attitude can be shaped by the media whether based on fact or not. While there are no exceptions not to love, that does not mean we do nothing. Love does not mean you let people walk all over you, destroy and/kill at will.
While I can’t apologize nor rationalize God’s seemingly indiscriminant commands of aggression, all I can say is that if it was God ordered, what else was to be done? This does not mean they need carry hate toward anyone. “Love” did not mean that the Jews who were killed in droves by aggressors feel warm fuzzy feelings for their enemies. There were times of rising up, Hanukkah was such a time.

Therefore, it goes without saying that we needn’t accept idolatry nor participate in pagan activities because it is politically correct or the cultural tolerable thing to do. Christianity in general I’m afraid has taken to the warpath and combined with it a false sense of twisted patriotism which upholds is own ideology as being “right” and its actions justifiable while the press screams and points “there’s your enemy, after them!”

That said, we as families have a responsibility and obligation to protect those to whom God has entrusted us. Yet, Jesus words are very plain. I can still love, while taking action if need be. My definition of love does not include “failure to take action if innocence is at risk.” This does not need to be action driven by hate or fear, but out of obligation and responsibility to protect those who cannot do so themselves. I am for “turning the other cheek” as Jesus taught (with Jesus’ use of “turning the other cheek” it must also be remembered the culture to which Jesus was speaking. These people were under the oppression of the Romans, who were allowed to “slap on the cheek” an inferior, which included the Jews. The Roman laws of “Angaria” also dictated that a Roman could force an “inferior” to carry a load up to one mile – Jesus spoke about this as well, “if forced to go one mile, then go with him two.” This statement was about honor and shame as much as anything.). But just like many instances, often times there are greater and lesser commands to consider. If my own life were in danger and mine alone, I would find it very difficult to take the life of another. But if my wife, children or any other innocent person’s life was in jeopardy due to the hatred and/or purposeful actions of another upon them, so help me God, they would pass by me over my dead body. But my action would not have to be driven by hate, although I could hate what they and others like them are doing.

I am opposed to modern war. In general, modern warfare has become merely a vehicle to make money for the invested social elite, and do the bidding of multinationals while protecting their interests and all who seek to benefit. This is not a conspiratorial statement, but rather pertains to the selling and building of war craft (funding either side of a given or created feud), debt incurred with warfare plus the interest to those who are lending, thus making it possible. Very little war fought today (in my opinion) is justifiable. Therefore since it is not really about “safety” or “defense of the innocent” or God mandated, I am against it.

Shaun Rufener said...

I would never find it appropriate to take life for possessions or unjust warfare. To take a threatening life, in order to save an innocent one I believe is justified by the scripture. I would hate to stand before God and give an account as to why I stepped aside and let something happen to an innocent person when it was within my power to prevent it. (Of course, if disarming the situation in a non-lethal way is an option, that obviously would be best). I don’t believe that our trust should be in weapons, nor that our first action should be to be a lethal one. But interestingly, those who would forbid the use of deadly force without exception would not hesitate to call the police and have them use deadly force. So what really is the point? The life of the one you “spared”? Again, there is not a “one size fits all” solution. Life is important to God, so I respect it. Like you said, life = blessing, death = curse. When innocent life is under attack, I take that very seriously, because God does. Because of the rate we (as a country) are exterminating innocent lives (babies and others) God’s fury will not be held off for long. I believe this can be biblically and historically observed (although from a historical point of view it cannot be proven that “God” intervened as is narrated in the Scriptures).

Like you say, it all comes down to this, until the nations recognize what will bring true peace, there will be turmoil. Until there is a righteous government established, nations will rise against each other and peoples. Either way, these things do not give us just reason to harbor hatred toward any people, nations or languages. Love and mercy must lead the way before the sword.