“And who is my neighbor?” the self-righteous lawyer asked Jesus. Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which two religious guys ignore a crime victim in need but a Samaritan goes above and beyond to care for the injured man. Samaritans were despised by the Jews, so this parable was quite an indictment against their attitude. In fact, when asked by Jesus who proved to be a neighbor in the story, the lawyer couldn’t even bring himself to say, “the Samaritan,” but instead answered, “the one who showed mercy.”
This parable is a box full of goodness that I would love to unpack with you, but I’ll just get to the bottom line. To fulfill the command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matt. 22:39) is to love the one in need near you – no matter where you are. A biblical neighbor is anyone near you, and biblical love is a verb, not an emotion. To love means to pursue, to please, and to meet needs. John said it this way: “...let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn. 3:18). The Samaritan loved his neighbor, the injured man by the side of the road, by meeting his needs, which no doubt pleased the man. Love is an action.
To love your neighbor as yourself requires knowing your neighbor. That is the pursuit part of love – getting to know someone. Only by knowing them can you please them and meet their needs. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the need for belongingness and love comes right after our basic needs (i.e., food, clothing, shelter). Arguably then, just by getting to know your neighbor you are loving them by meeting a psychological need.
Let me wrap this up with the “as yourself” part of the love your neighbor command. How would you want to be loved by someone? Would you rather they meet your real needs, or what they perceive to be your needs? Would you rather be known and loved by your neighbor, or ignored and unloved? Now think about Jesus’ example of his love for us. How can you love your neighbor this week? May you be loved as well.