Russell (2002) states given the increasing levels of hostility and hate that exist in both the church and the world, is there a more important question than “Who is my neighbour?” Religious leaders have an important public role to play in the conversation about who the neighbour is and about how the neighbour is to be regarded and treated (p.2). Originally the question was debated by a religious leader or expert in the law with Jesus Christ. Jesus’ answer, however, points more to the conduct of being neighbour rather than relating to whom.
In the opening chapters of Genesis, the first question raised by a human being is, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” It is a recurring question. In the Gospel of Luke a similar question is put to Jesus by a lawyer: “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan not to answer the lawyer’s question so much as to reverse its direction. The question Jesus proposes is, “Who was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” What was a question about the identity of the “other” (and his or her status) now becomes a question about the lawyer (and his conduct) (Wood, 2002, p.36).
Koyama (2002) affirms “In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, the word “neighbour” is about “becoming neighbour.” It implies movement. The priest and the Lévite chose not to become neighbour to the man who was in great need. The Samaritan “was moved with pity” and became neighbour to him. The parable ends powerfully with the words: “Go and do likewise”” (Luke 10:29-37) (p.23).
The initial question posed by the expert in the law “what must I do” concludes in Christ’s – “go and do (ποιει) likewise”. The Teacher of the law seeks the completion of ‘something’ to attain eternal life . The second verb used by Jesus, however, is an imperative in the present tense, an ongoing process – love continuously displaying itself. Here there seems to be an implicit linking to the second commandment also as imperative. The overall inclusio frames the parable as the example of mercy/compassion/care; love displaying itself in the ongoing neighborly actions of the Samaritan.
Kelly (2002) postulates Jesus’ statement, “go and do likewise” does not mean, go and identify who you consider to be a needy neighbour. This approach leaves us, like the lawyer, in control, identifying who is neighbour and what their needs are. Instead Jesus says, “go and be neighbour,” which invites us into new ways of being, ways that leave us open and vulnerable, not knowing who lies ahead of us on the road or what they will need from us (p.38).
The parable points to being neighbour, rather than identifying who the neighbour is. Seeking clarification to who is in need, in a world of poverty, depression, disease and famine seems a misnomer in itself. Hultgren (2000) states by means of this parable Jesus calls his hearers away from legalistic or culturally conditioned mind-set to a life of authentic love. One should not seek to define who the neighbour is, but simply be a neighbour to the one in need (p. 100).
Keenan (2002) states, the lesson is not to see Christ in the one to whom we are being merciful (primarily the horizontal paradigm). The ones who are rewarded don’t see that until they have first been merciful to the hungry, the naked, the imprisoned, that is, until they have been neighbours to them. A spirituality that invites us to see the other first as Christ misses the entire point of the parable. We are called not to look for Christ, but to be neighbour, to practice mercy to those in need. Then, it will be revealed to us that we have ministered to Christ in need (p.8).
In our quest to make neighbourly love a reality, we have, in addition to the inspiring example of the Good Samaritan, the magnanimous life of our Christ to guide us. His altruism was universal, for he thought of all men, even publicans and sinners, as brothers (King, 1982, p. 35). In addition, He taught us to love even our enemies (Mt 5:25).