The righteous neighbour

Reflecting on the parable of the Good Samaritan the other day, I was struck by one particular thought. I’m not saying that this is the only, central or primary point -just something of interest. 

For the man seeking to justify himself (prove his own self-righteousness), the question “who is my neighbour” was crucial. Now actually, he had a good idea of what the answer should be. A neighbour is different to both the foreigner living in a far off country and the sojourner, a stranger living temporarily among us.

So, for Torah observers, neighbours were those who also observed Torah, who were within the Covenant and remained in the covenant through that observation.  You might also say that the call to love your neighbour could be regarded as a command to love those who love you. Jesus of course breaks that requirement for mutuality and turns the command on its head when he insists that we are not just to love those who love us but to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us.

The religious leaders who pass by, in their concern for external Torah obedience fail to keep the heart of the law. They fail to love their neighbour. The Samaritan stops and stoops to show love to one who would have hated him. One of the twists in the story is that the one regarded as impure, defiled, outside of the Covenant, a Torah breaker, in fact turns out to be more righteous than the others in the parable.

Paul in Romans 2:12-16 says:

“12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”