The parable of the Good Samaritan offers one of the best descriptions of neighborliness that I’m aware of. From it we learn that:
- Our neighbor may not share our same worldview, economic status, culture, or race. In fact, our neighbor, rather than being one of us, might be one of them. If this is so, if they are our neighbors, they must be one of us. The barriers between us and them, like the Berlin Wall, must come down.
- Love for our neighbor is not something different than our love for God. If we are to love God with ALL our heart, soul, strength, and mind, we can have no love which is outside or other than our love for God. This must mean that our neighbor is included in the ALL of our love for God – or, in other words, ‘God’ must include our neighbor. ‘God’, rather than being ‘Wholly Other’ as some theologians have claimed, must be the Cosmic Whole. This supports a theological position known as ‘panentheism’ (not ‘pantheism’), a natural theology which overcomes the alienating effects of supernatural theism.
- Love for our neighbor is not something different than our love for our self. The only way we can love our neighbor as our self, is if our ‘self’ includes our neighbor.
The parable is told in answer to the question about how it might be possible to inherit ‘eternal life’. It’s interesting that Jesus, who Christians claim to be the best authority and resource concerning such questions, doesn’t offer as an answer, “Well, you must pray this little prayer and accept me as your Personal Savior.” Perhaps eternal life is not gained as easily as has been supposed by most evangelical Christians. But then, it also seems that they have misinterpreted what is meant by ‘eternal life’. It would have helped if the Bible translators had more accurately used the phrase, ‘life of the age to come’, rather than ‘eternal life’. The original language pointed to a quality of life that could be possessed now, rather than a quantity of life (immortality) which could only be experienced after one died – a “pie in the sky, by and by”.
The lessons taught by Jesus in the parable can be summarized as follows:
If you have a desire to experience of different quality of life – a life characterized by love, peace, joy, hopefulness, and which includes the experience of community and belonging, you must begin to recognize God in your neighbors, and your neighbors as members of your ‘self’.