Muslim-Christian dialogue: Neighbours

Each month we meet locally with our Muslim friends to discuss issues of faith. We had our most recent meeting last night and considered the question of how we are to treat our neighbours. Below is an outline of what I presented to them.

Who is my neighbour?

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 20:25-37

What is the point of the parable?

  • Jesus boils the entire law down to two commands: love for God; love for others
  • Nobody loves God or their neighbour perfectly (this is why the man tried to justify himself by defining ‘neighbour’ – he hadn’t fulfilled the law)
  • The priest and the Levite (holy, respectable men) did not help the injured man. The Samaritan – whom the Jews despised as enemies– helped. This means everyone is our neighbour and we are only neighbours when we love others.
  • Given how Jews and Samaritans view each other, Jesus is making the same point as he does in Luke 6

Love your enemies

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Luke 6:27-36

Jesus is the Good Samaritan

  • In Jesus’ story, we are represented by the man who has been beaten and left for dead.
  • The answer to the man’s predicament (our predicament) wasn’t to rely on religious people but on the Samaritan. The one they despise is the one who will save.
  • The man who was left for dead was found by the Samaritan, who had compassion on him, and made him alive and well again (having found him ‘half-dead’). He saved the beaten man.
  • We aren’t to try our best to follow the moral example of the Good Samaritan. We are the beaten man who needs to experience the compassion of the Good Samaritan (Jesus) before we “do likewise.”
  • This isn’t a moral tale telling us to be good. It is a message of grace apart from rules, laws and religion. Instead, salvation and help is found in a person – a person few expect.
  • It is only when we experience Jesus’ saving goodness and compassion, having received him, that we might emulate him by the power of the Holy Spirit he grants to us.

What does this mean in practice?

  • Jesus is our Good Samaritan. He comes to find us and he is the solution to our predicament.
  • Jesus fulfilled the whole of the law on our behalf – he was the good neighbour that we often aren’t – and we are saved by his perfect neighbourliness.
  • His love for his enemies reached its climax at the cross, where he died for us even while we hated him
  • Now he has saved us, we are to emulate the Good Samaritan. Not to earn favour with God, but because we love him and long to be like him.
  • Just as Jesus loved us while we were his enemies, we are to love others even if they are our enemies. We do this out of love for Christ who loved us while we were his enemies.