Reversing Neighborliness

By Mark D. Roberts

June 6, 2021

Scripture – Luke 10:30-37 (NRSV)

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.”


Jesus told that Parable of the Good Samaritan in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” But Jesus didn’t really answer that question. Rather, he reversed the discussion of neighborliness. Jesus’s parable encourages us to ask not “Who is my neighbor?” so much as “Am I being a loving neighbor to the people in my life, not only those I know and love, but even those I might tend to ignore or despise?” Jesus’s story encourages us to ask ourselves, “What sort of neighbor am I?”

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.


In last week’s Life for Leaders devotions, we began reflecting on the Parable of the Good Samaritan. As you may recall, Jesus told this parable in response to an expert in Jewish religious law. This expert had sought to test Jesus by asking how to inherit eternal life. Jesus reversed ground by asking the man what he read in the law. When the man responded by saying that we should love God and our neighbor, Jesus said he had given the right answer, adding, “Do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28).

Wanting to dodge the implications of Jesus’s exhortation, the legal expert asked, “And who is my neighbor?” (10:29). Both Jesus and the expert knew that there was a debate among the interpreters of law over who counted as a neighbor. If you could define neighbor in a limited way, such as members of my family or tribe, then you could limit the people you were commanded to love. I suppose that the legal expert expected Jesus to lay out his view of who counted as a neighbor and who did not. If he was lucky, the expert could show that he was already doing what Jesus had told him to do.

But Jesus didn’t answer the expert’s question in the way he had anticipated. Instead, Jesus told a story, the one we call the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In this story, a man was robbed, beaten, and left for dead by the side of the road. Two Jewish religious leaders pass by the wounded man without stopping. But a Samaritan, the sort of person the legal expert would have despised, stopped to help the injured man. This “Good Samaritan” acted out of compassion, bandaging the man’s wounds and bringing him to an inn where he could recover. The Samaritan even picked up the tab at the inn!

Upon completing this story, Jesus asked the legal expert, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” (Luke 10:36). “The one who showed him mercy,” answered the expert (10:37). Once again, Jesus wasn’t finished just because the man had given the right answer. “Go and do likewise,” Jesus added.

So much could be said about this parable, but now I want to focus for a moment on something I find both fascinating and relevant to our lives as followers of Jesus. Remember that that legal expert had asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Strictly speaking, Jesus didn’t answer that question, though you could certainly conclude that your neighbor is someone in need whom you have the capacity to help. But the point of Jesus’s story was different. We see this most clearly in the question Jesus asked the legal expert. He did not ask, “Who was the neighbor in this story?” Rather, he asked the expert, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” (10:36).

Jesus reversed the conversation about neighborliness. Neighborliness, he showed, is more about how we act toward the people we encounter than it is about defining who is in and who is out. Neighborliness is acting in love toward another person, even when that person lies on the other side of a vast cultural divide. Yes, we are to love our neighbor as ourself. But we do this by seeking to be a loving neighbor to those in need of the love and care we are able to provide.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan challenges us to love the people in our lives in a generous and sacrificial way. Jesus encourages us to focus, not so much on whom we might love as on actually loving those we encounter “on the road.” Surely this will require wisdom in making choices, since we can’t love everyone we meet each day. But the way Jesus reframes the neighborliness question reminds us not to get so caught up in trying to figure out what love means that we don’t actually love the people God brings into our lives.


What sort of neighbor are you?

Can you remember a time you helped someone in need, even though you didn’t know that person?

What helps you to feel compassion for people, especially those you might tend to overlook?


Ask the Lord to help you be a neighbor to someone this week. Be attentive to the Spirit’s guidance.


Lord Jesus, thank you for the Parable of the Good Samaritan. There is so much for us to learn in this story, and in your relationship with the legal expert.

Lord, forgive me for the times I get so wrapped up in trying to figure out who my neighbor is that I fail to be a neighbor to the people you “on my road.” Help me, I pray, to have a heart of compassion for those who are hurting. Show me what I can and should do as a neighbor. Stretch me, Lord, beyond my comfort zone, as I seek to love in imitation of you. Amen.

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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. A video on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: CEO Ron Johnson Asks: Who Is My Neighbor at Work? (Video)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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