Written by Vladimir Moss



     At times of conflict, or war, the question posed by the lawyer to Christ becomes especially pertinent. Who is my neighbour? Who is really close to me (for the Greek word for “neighbour”, plesios, means “near” or “close”)? Paradoxically, my closest neighbour in a geographical or family or racial sense may be very far from my neighbour in a spiritual sense. For, as the Lord said, “A man’s enemies will be those of his own household”…

     Now the lawyer who posed this question should have been on good, neighbourly terms with Christ. After all, they were both Jews, and he was a lawyer, while Christ spent His time preaching the Law of God. But the Gospel (Luke 10.25-37) says that he posed his first question tempting Him. In other words, like the other Scribes and Pharisees, he was trying to catch out the Lord, show that He was not such a great teacher after all.

     But the Lord, as always, is cleverer than His tempters. In answer to the lawyer’s question, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He throws the question back at him: “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” After all, the man was a lawyer, so he should know what was written in the law…

     “So he answered and said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbour as yourself’.” An excellent answer! Out of all the very many commandments of the law, the lawyer had chosen precisely those two commandments which the Lord considers the most important. Probably, as Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich writes, the lawyer had been following Christ’s teaching and linked these two commandments because he had heard Christ linking them.

     “And He said to him, ‘You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.’ But he, wishing to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’” Evidently the lawyer was a bit ashamed of himself. And so, trying to “justify himself” by posing a question whose purpose was not to tempt Christ but of which he sincerely wanted to know the answer, he said: “Who is my neighbour?” Probably the lawyer was inwardly dissatisfied with the answer to this question given by his colleagues, that is, that the neighbour of the men of the lawyer class were other educated, self-satisfied Jews like themselves. It was such people, according the lawyers and Pharisees, that God wanted them to love, not the unwashed, uneducated people whom they fleeced, still less foreigners and pagans.

     In reply to the lawyer’s inward dissatisfaction the Lord gave a truly enlightening, but at the same time radical and radically unorthodox (from a Pharisaic point of view) parable, the parable of the Good Samaritan. There are two striking themes of this parable.

     The first is that the Lord seems to go out of His way to shock the sensibilities of the lawyer and his class by giving as a model of goodness and love a Samaritan, that is a member of a non-Jewish, semi-pagan race whom the Jews heartily despised. A contemporary parallel might be if a Greek Orthodox priest were to take a certain Turk as a model of Orthodoxy, or if a Serbian Orthodox bishop were to take a certain Albanian as a model of love, or if a Russian Orthodox politician were to take the president of the United States as a model of wisdom and enlightened world leadership... But of course the Lord never shocks without a good purpose, without a positive aim. And the aim here is clearly to indicate to the Jews that their ideas of who is their neighbour were far too narrow, being founded on personal and collective pride and egoism. The Gospel of Christ calls on the faithful to love all men, regardless of race, class or religion, and regardless of whether they love you or hate you.

     So does that mean that all men are our neighbours? Not quite… This brings us to the second striking theme of the parable: that it appears not to answer the question directly. For the Lord does not say: “Which of these three – the priest, the Levite or the Samaritan – is your neighbour whom you must love as yourself?” Instead He says: “Which of these three do you think was neighbour to him who fell among the thieves?”

     This subtle change of emphasis transforms the idea of being a neighbour from a passive state to an active intention and deed. It is as if the Lord were saying: “Do not seek to divide those around you into neighbours and non-neighbours, sheep and goats, those close to you and those not close to you, so that you are permitted to love the one group, and not love the other. This kind of discrimination is not pleasing to God, Who calls on us to love even our enemies, and to do good even to those who despitefully treat us and abuse us. Rather we should ask ourselves: how can I remove the barriers of distrust and prejudice that divide me from this man, and that man, and that man, and transform our relationship from one of distance and enmity into closeness and neighbourliness?”

     The consequence of this shift of emphasis is that our love becomes universalist, even if it is not received universally. We love even if we are not loved in return, we draw near to men even if they shrink away from us. So although the end-result, sadly and inevitably, is that many men remain estranged from us, this is not our fault; the barriers have been placed on his side, but not on ours. For even the Lord could not make everyone His neighbour. He drew near to Judas in love, even offering him His Body and Blood; but Judas shrank away from Him into the night of sin and the coldness of the devil, that perpetual alien and destroyer of neighbourliness…

     But are there not some people to whom it is impossible to be a neighbour? Enemies of the homeland, for example? Or of the faith?

     However, the man fallen among thieves represents the whole of humanity, and the Good Samaritan binds up all the wounds of humanity, without exception. He places humanity on his beast of burden, that is, unites it with His own humanity, takes it to the inn, that is, the Holy Church, and provides the innkeeper, the hierarchy of the Church, with two coins, the Old and the New Testaments, with which to instruct and enlighten all the members of the Church. For the Samaritan is Christ Himself. Far from abhorring the politically unreliable or dogmatically incorrect, He identifies Himself with them – not, of course, to the extent of identifying with their errors and betrayals and heresies, but in the sense that He will not treat them as exceptions to the company of those who can be corrected and saved through the power of His universalist neighbourliness and love. He identifies Himself with them also in another sense. For in the eyes of the Jews Christ is suspect both in His patriotism, insofar as He recognizes the legitimacy of Roman rule over the Jews, and in His theology, insofar as He calls Himself the Son of God and applies to Himself the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah.

     So here we come to the third, and deepest, theme of the parable. The theme is this: that our neighbour is Christ. He is the one nearest to us, all of us, because He draws close to us by the power of His love, heals our wounds, brings us to the Church and in general provides us with all that is necessary for our salvation until He comes again. For “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the Blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2.13). Through Him we have been brought near, that is, put in a neighbourly relationship to Christ and to the whole of the people of God.

     It is only by allowing Christ to draw near to us that we can carry out His commandment: “Go, and do likewise”. For can we be a neighbour to others if we reject the Good Samaritan Himself? For “He Himself is our Peace, Who has made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of separation” (Ephesians 2.14).


November 16/29, 2014.

St. Matthew the Apostle.

‹‹ Back to All Articles
Site Created by The Marvellous Media Company