Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
A lawyer wishing to show his willingness to follow the Torah’s commandments, including the command to love his neighbor (Leviticus 19:18) tries to limit the law by asking for an exact definition of the word “neighbor.” He is willing to love his neighbor as long as the definition of who one’s neighbor is fits his own limits of whom he is willing to love. When the lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbor?”, Jesus answers with the story of the good Samaritan and then himself asks a question of the lawyer: Who was neighbor to the man in need?
The neighbor turns out to be anyone to whom we can be neighborly.
“Anthony the Great, father of the desert monks, said, ‘Our life and our death are with our neighbor. If we do good to our neighbor, we do good to God; if we cause our neighbors to stumble, we sin against Christ.’ Poemen, Achillas, and Ammonas could see the divine image in people they met, both those who imitated God’s virtues and those who sinned. So, like God, they acted toward their neighbors with dignity and kindness. Like the brothers in the desert, people today know others who have served as mentors. These may be parents, teachers, grandparents, pastors, or good neighbors and friends. By word or example, they provide models of how best to live. Remembering their example can protect us from going astray. Let us each give thanks for those we have been privileged to know, because through them we can see God present in his image and likeness.” (Nonna Verna Harrison, God’s Many-Splendored Image, pg. 62)