I think we tend to miss the point of the teaching story misnamed “The Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37).

Almost always our focus is on the people who passed by the “man who fell among thieves” and the one who stopped, instead of on the framing questions by which Jesus signaled the living spirit of the story.

A lawyer asks Jesus how to attain eternal life. When Jesus challenges him to find the answer in Scripture, the lawyer says to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.

He then asks Jesus the first framing question:

“And who is my neighbor?” (v. 29)

Jesus tells him the now familiar parable, how two travelers avoided the robbed and beaten man while a third treated his wounds, took him to an inn, and paid for his care.

Then Jesus asks the lawyer the second framing question:

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man…?” (v. 36).

The lawyer names the one who stopped to help.

Jesus says to go and do likewise.

Vine

I imagine the lawyer walking off down the road, stopping suddenly, and saying, “Wait a minute! He didn’t answer my question!”

Jesus defines “neighbor” as a verb, not a noun.

We aren’t allowed to choose whom to neighbor.

Whoever is next to us at the moment, that is the one.

Originally published on Quaker Universalist Conversations.

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