Love Thy Neighbor: Our neighbor isn’t just the person down the street


Editor’s note: As our country endures a time of great divisiveness, Bread Blog begins a series today that reminds us of God’s commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Blog posts will be written by members of the church relations department at Bread for the World.

By Justice Randolph

In the Gospel of Luke, a lawyer tests Jesus by asking what he must do to receive eternal life. Jesus asks what the law says and the lawyer responds that you shall love God with all that you are and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus confirms that this is the right answer; the lawyer then asks who is my neighbor. Jesus responds with the well-known Parable of the Good Samaritan.

At its core, the parable tells us that our neighbor isn’t just the person down the street. The people Jesus was preaching to were in constant conflict with the Samaritan people. So this parable teaches us that our neighbor isn’t just the other people in our group or tribe. Our neighbors aren’t merely the people who look and think like us. Jesus teaches that we must look out for the well-being of people from other churches, communities, and cultures; here, Jesus teaches that we must help anyone who is in need, even if he or she looks like an enemy. As Bishop García rightly points out in this series’ introductory post, this understanding of neighbor is counter-cultural.

For years, the United States has tried to be a good neighbor to developing countries by funding international development assistance programs around the world. These programs focus on real human needs like agricultural development, humanitarian assistance, health, education, gender equality, and water and sanitation. These programs build long-term socioeconomic capacity so that developing countries can eventually become self-sufficient. These programs have made a big difference in the lives of millions of people who are hungry and poor and together account for less than one percent of the total federal budget.

Martin Luther King Jr. adds context to the parable in his 1968 sermon “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” King notes that the road the Samaritan travelled was dangerous: “[I]t’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking, and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize [upon them].” The priest and the Levite ask “’if I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’” The Samaritan, according to King, flips the question, instead asking “’if I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’” For King, “that’s the question.”

Now the question isn’t what will happen to the United States if we do or do not continue funding for international development assistance programs. The answer to that question is easier for us than it was for the priest and Levite in Jesus’s story: next to nothing. The programs in question account for little money in the larger context and do not put our country in harm’s way.

The question to ask ourselves and leaders is, what will happen to our neighbors if those programs are cut or eliminated?

Justice H. Randolph is the project manager for church relations at Bread for the World.

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