Spiritual Discipline: Who Is My Neighbor?

Yes, students, it is time for another Spiritual Discipline post. Last time we covered a few things about me as a teacher of spiritual things. This time, I will transition to a full lesson from scripture. This column is still establishing a foundation (no pun intended), so I will cover a lesson I consider a fundamental one.

(Not Fundamentalist, as in believe this or be a heretic. Merely fundamental [small ‘f’], as in this is something I consider part of the foundation of the things I talk about here.)

You may recall, O reader, that in the previous Spiritual Discipline post I said, “I have known atheists and Wiccans and Pagans, and gotten along with all of them. I am not here to make anyone think one particular way.” Why would I as a Christian say that? For one, as I also previously said, I am not an evangelist. For another, they are all my neighbors. What does that mean? I shall endeavor to explain.

When challenged by religious leaders of the time about which commandment given by God is the most important, Jesus said this:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 22:37–40 (ESV)

At another time, Jesus was challenged by a lawyer, which is to say, an expert in Jewish law. Jesus asked what the lawyer’s understanding of the law was, and the lawyer said

“You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.”

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

But the lawyer, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus took up the challenge and replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by coincidence a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was and, when he saw him, was moved compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two days’ wages and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, when I come back I will repay you.’ Who, of these three, do you think proved to have been a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

The lawyer answered, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said to him, “You go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:27–37 (XAV [Xajow’s Amalgamated Version])

If you are familiar at all with this story, you probably know it as the parable of the Good Samaritan. What you may not know is, in that period of history, the Jews despised the Samaritans. Samaritans were considered apostate by the Jews. To the Jews, to be called a Samaritan was on par with being called evil. In the Gospel of John, chapter eight, some Jews in a heated discussion with Jesus say to Him, “Are we not right in saying that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:48, ESV) Essentially, there was no person Jesus could have used as a greater contrast with the Jewish priest and the Levite than a Samaritan.

The Jewish priests and the Levites were respected members of Jewish society. They were religious leaders who would have known the law and been considered servants of God. Why would they have not helped the wounded man? Likely because helping the wounded man would have made them unclean. The rules for touching blood were pretty strict. A priest who had touched blood would have had to be undergo a lengthy purification ritual before he could perform his priestly duties again.

“But a Samaritan…” The most despised person possible comes along and is the one who shows mercy to the wounded man. This is the person Jesus chooses to be the answer to the question of “who is my neighbor?”

So as a Christian, who is my neighbor? Who am I supposed to love as I love myself? Every person, even the ones I might consider despicable. My neighbor is not just the person who agrees with me. My neighbor is the person who is in need, regardless of whether or not he agrees with me. My neighbor is the person I meet, regardless of whether or not he shares my beliefs.

If you are a Muslim or a Pagan or an Atheist, you are my neighbor. Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or Wiccan, you are my neighbor. Democrat, Republican or Socialist, you are my neighbor. Racist, xenophobe, fascist or murderer, you are my neighbor.

This is not always easy for me. I hate racism. That is not an exaggeration. There is little in the world I despise more than racism. But the racist is my neighbor. I think socialism is a load of humbug little better than fascism. But the socialist and the fascist are both my neighbors. Mind you, I am not equating different religions with bad things. Your religion, O reader, or lack of religion, is between you and God or gods or the universe or whatever. I make no judgment about that. And I could, of course, be entirely wrong in my religion. I am just pointing out that sometimes loving my neighbor as myself can seem genuinely quite difficult.

How can I possibly love as I love myself the people whom I dislike? Does this mean I have to feel emotionally connected to them? Because I do not. I do not know how to emotionally love everyone as I love myself. I am not even sure that is possible. But I think perhaps there is another part of scripture that helps me get a handle on this.

Remember what Jesus said about the two most important commandments? “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” There is another place where Jesus mentions the Law and the Prophets, Matthew 7:12. “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (ESV). “Therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do to you: even so do ye to them: for this is the Law and the Prophets” (GNV). “Always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that sums up the teaching of the Torah and the Prophets” (CJB).

So I do my best to treat others as I would have others treat me. I do not always succeed in that. But I hope I am getting better at it. And treating others as I would have them treat me is, I think, how I am to love my neighbor as myself.

Some may ask, what about being a Dominant? How can a Dominant treat a submissive as the Dominant wishes to be treated? The answer is easy enough. Respect. Do not conflate respect with deference. But I have a whole other post about that.

Okay, students, that is our class for today. I hope I have, in my no doubt clumsy way, given you something worth thinking about. Your homework is to take time to think about how you desire other people to treat you, and to consider whether you actually treat other people that same way. Because these lessons will not do you any good if you do not also seek to apply them. It is not enough to say you agree with “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” You actually have to consider whether you are doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.

In future posts (probably not as part of the Spiritual Discipline column), I will write about how I think the “treat others as you wish to be treated” principle applies to Dominants and to submissives. 

Feel free, as always, to leave questions in the comments below.

That is all for now. Class dismissed.

6 Responses to “Spiritual Discipline: Who Is My Neighbor?”

  1. Can I write about this on my twitter feed?

  2. This is very well constructed, not clumsy at all. Treating others as I wish to be treated is very important to me, everyday I ask myself if I have served and interacted with others as best I could and if not how can I change that situation, it keeps me more honest with myself and always striving to be a better person. I appreciate how you have expressed this and your contextualisation of the Old Testament. I think this provides a much deeper understanding of scripture.

  3. Misbehavin Says:

    hhhmmm… not that this isn’t all very great points in a very interesting story.
    I am just havin a heck of a time wrapping the sense of it around my mind.
    Yes be respectful of others and the stories are prime examples…of how to apply them to ones daily life.
    What to figure out now is how one wants to be treated? and then accepting that , so what to do in the mean time…? It is difficult when cruelty has been a survival tactic for so long.

    • I would advise you to have a journal. Write out your thoughts about what you want. Writing makes your brain process your thoughts. It will help you organize your ideas.

      Also, you can move past cruelty. I do understand it as a defense tactic. But it limits a person. It is a wall that can keep people out, but it can also keep you in. Believe me, ‘treat others as you would have them treat you’ is a better plan.

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