And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
And Jesus answering said,
A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
And likewise a Levite, when he was at that place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
And he said, He that shewed mercy on him.
Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.
And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.
But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
Luke 10 : 25-42
Who is your neighbor? Maybe your neighbor is anyone in need of anything, in any way, to any extent. And since everyone is in need of something, everywhere, all the time, your neighbor can be anyone whose need you can fulfill, in any way, to any extent.
But how can you be a true neighbor to anyone–truly act as a neighbor?
You are passing through a community in which you are not well liked–because your background is different, and your beliefs are different. And you encounter someone who has a very serious, urgent need. This is a total stranger–his background and beliefs are almost certainly different from yours too. But no one will help him–even the religious establishment does nothing for him. You know that if you do nothing for him, no one will.
So you go out of your way to help this neighbor. You don’t just give him the time of day, you give him your time. And you give him your effort. And you even give enough of your money to see that his need is completely fulfilled.
You are a true neighbor to this total stranger.
Now–in a different life–the situation is completely reversed. A close friend is passing through your community. You know this man very well–he’s not only a close friend, he’s a great teacher, even a spiritual leader with many followers. You would think a person like this would need nothing from you at all.
Your sister invites this close friend, and extraordinary person, into your house.
And while your sister is cooking some very special food for this very special guest–maybe even straightening up the place, while the food’s in the oven–what are you doing?
You’re just sitting on the floor, listening to your friend.
Maybe he’s talking about ideas and ideals–sharing much spiritual knowledge and insight with you–or maybe he’s just talking about his experiences along the road. Maybe he’s sharing his joyous feelings–even laughing, and telling funny stories–or maybe he’s confiding in you, thoughtfully telling you of his personal difficulties.
Then your sister notices that you aren’t helping her a bit–that you’re just sitting on the floor. And she is so annoyed that, instead of just telling you directly, she asks this special guest to tell you to help her serve him.
And to your surprise, this great teacher, this spiritual leader gently explains to your sister that–although he appreciates the effort she’s taking to make him comfortable–it is what you are doing that he appreciates most. Because–although you are sitting still on the floor–you are also listening to him. And this is what he needs most–not food, not drink, not even neatness–but a listening ear.
You don’t just give him the time of day, you give him your time. And you give him your effort. And you give enough of your attention to see that his need is completely fulfilled.
You are a true neighbor to this close friend.
Whether your neighbor’s needs are simple or complex, whether your neighbor is a close friend or a total stranger, your neighbor can be anyone whose need you can fulfill, in any way, to any extent.