Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

I joined (or more accurately re-joined) a small group last night, one of the many associated with Westside Family Church (WFC) and connected with their recently opened Leavenworth campus.  I promised the other members of the group that I would research (it’s one of my talents/gifts) one of the study questions from the guide (which can be found here) for this week’s installment of the Model Family sermon series.

The question related to a verse from our reading of Matthew 22:36-40, specifically verse 39:

36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
37 He said to him, ” “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
38 This is the greatest and first commandment.
39 And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Matthew 22:36-40 (NRSV)

The question asked of us read:

What does Jesus mean by the word, “neighbor”?

I immediately and somewhat obviously jumped to the conclusion that Jesus means I should love everyone.  Mostly because I’ve had this drilled into my head for a lifetime.  But this got me thinking, trying to shed my 20th and 21st century baggage and think at ground zero, with Jesus, in that first century ancient political and philosophical arena he tread boldy through.

Should I review the original Greek of the New Testament to get directly at the word “neighbor”?  Or, since this is actually a quote by Jesus of an Old Testament reference in Leviticus, should I instead look at the original Hebrew?

18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
Leviticus 19:18 (NRSV)

Am I over-thinking and over-analyzing things (again)?  Is it simple, like I want it to be?  Agape love, modeling God’s love for all of his creation and children?

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 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.
31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.
34 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.
35 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.’
36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Luke 10:29-37 (NRSV)

I’m resolved to pray upon this and to continue my neighborly research this week.

In the meantime, won’t you be my neighbor?  Join me at WFC Leavenworth this Sunday and/or a small group near you, probably right smack dab in the middle of your neighborhood.