Who is my Neighbor and who should I Love in Turbulent and Troubling Times?

Most all agree, in principle, that we should love and help our neighbors. But the purveyors of racial justice have grouped disparate people together by a very superficial and difficult to define characteristic. The biblical justification for leaders pushing this agenda in the church (Lutherans for Racial Justice, for example in the LCMS) is the command to love one’s neighbor. This justification requires changing the Bible’s definition of “neighbor”—substituting a broad class—a man-made grouping of people—for the individual “neighbor” that the Father gives us to love and serve. An idea takes the place of real people, marking a change in definition of love.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is an example of how to care for the weak, broken, and mistreated. The wounded man, though, did not get justice in the parable. His attackers were not punished. Roman legislation was not proposed by the Good Samaritan to change travel safety and road policing policies. The problems and weaknesses of his particular race was not addressed. His ethnicity is not mentioned—precisely because it does not matter. He was going to die without actual help—all the vague social change in the world would not have benefited him. He needed real personal care and basic medical assistance, not to be grouped philosophically with those similar to him by some select earthly category.

Race and religion are mentioned, though, by Jesus in the parable to show that racial pride, characteristics, and identification can be a hindrance to those who identify and trust in their tradition, religious superiority, and racial importance. It was the lowly Samaritan—part of the inferior (by traditional Jewish opinion) class who helps this indiscriminate “man.” The equivalent today would be someone downtrodden, despised, and weak—the oppressed and shameful—he is the one who fits the category of the Good Samaritan. He demonstrates how to love  whom God puts forth as our neighbor, not the Levite from ruling Jewish class, or the very religious priest.

It is the irreligious (by reputation) man—from the group that perverted the commandments and God-given worship (changing it from Jerusalem to Mt. Gerizim)—that saves the half-dead man of unlisted origin. The Samaritan helps, gives, and looks after another human being—not to make a public show or because the hurt man is of a lower social status—but simply because he has the opportunity and there is an obvious need. The Samaritan does not need to be guilted or bullied into this love—it comes from him, not external or social pressure.

Race plays into the parable significantly—those who want justice are condemned by Jesus for wanting to justify themselves. “And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” This man took pride in his knowledge, superiority, and tested Jesus to put himself above others. He did not have God’s favor—He did not show mercy, because He rejected divine mercy offered in the person of Jesus.

So who is my neighbor? A real person near you whom you can help. Class definitions of love dilute the individual’s needs and makes real people nameless and faceless. First, your neighbor is your spouse, children, and family. Abandoning them to protest in the streets is not real Christian love. Protests do not meet the biblical definition of love: love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor. 13). Protests are about opposition and power—not helping individuals personally. Pitting peoples against each other, classifying people you do not know in groups of oppressed and oppressors, working for justice for one type of people, at the expense of another, is not loving. Justice is not love.

Justice implies punishment and rectifying things. God declares that we are not supreme judges of society, fairness, or others: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:18). Unfair laws or practices do not change the command we have to love. Love does not need a law or political advantage to act—there is real opportunity to love right where you are put. It may not be impressive or give a euphoric feeling of utopian achievement. But the Christians learns of love from God, who is love.

The half-dead man in the parable does not define love for the Samaritan or determine what he needs by generic social messages—it is obvious to the Samaritan passing by what he should do. “He had compassion,” not guilt or outrage at the unfairness his own people were suffered. Anger at injustice gets in the way and prevents true love. Loves comes from within, the Spirit, it does not demand or protest—it gives willingly. The half-dead man could have been a rich man of the ruling class—and that is the point Jesus makes. Our neighbor is not restricted by social convention. Love is about us, not the person Christ calls us to love. As He died for all, so we should not be afraid to get our hands dirty to really love and help a created being, not an abstract social class.

There is no true justice without the Lord, and His law. We do not get to define justice, make fair earthly outcomes, or fix injustices. But we can love truly from the heart to help an actual person. Real godly love does not hurt or harbor resentment. It does not give partial treatment. Love acts for the good of a person made in the image of God. Class distinctions, including race, are meaningless and insignificant to God, if not to man. That is why Christ directs us to our neighbor, not the some artificial class definition.

Sinners are never as color-blind as they ought to be, but God does not favor a person by his past mistreatment, particular background, or color. The Christian is not called to love by imitating the world, but by imitating the Father who sacrificed His Son for our lives. So we also are to lay down our lives for real people—not an idealized class or skin-color. The Good Samaritan made real sacrifices—his time, his presence, and his money—to address a tangible need. He did not have to be bludgeoned with ideas of this man’s past or family ancestry. A man was sick and lying beside the road—of course he needed help. The Scripture says he went to the man, he did not stay ideologically distanced or become part of some human movement: “came to where he was.” He became involved in this man’s life, even making a promise into the future: “take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.”

Isn’t the point of the parable that our neighbor whom we are to love is obvious. But we, as sinners do want to, because we do not have love. We expect political solutions and take comfort in generic social change, rather than touching and dealing with a real bloody, messy person who cannot be perfectly solved and made right. Love does not demand the right and just result, it comes from compassion and does what appears to be foolish—sacrificing oneself in the process. Self-justification is a large part of the social justice movement. It is far too easy to be just in this simplistic man-made scheme. But Jesus directs us to real neighbors in our lives.

The person near us in need we are to help, not just fight for their ideas causes. Real change happens through personal interaction, not at the social or government level, for those most in need. The fist two who have their race emphasized in the parable are the ones who  do  not  love  their neighbor—because it is beneath them, they think. Another human being is not their problem: “Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” They served their greater ideas of  justice, not wanting to be tainted by this unclean man who did not fit into their idealized systems of religious righteousness. In the same way, modern racial groupings and political power moves to “fix” a class of people are not loving, in the Christian sense. It is what many want and demand today, with great conviction and feeling, no doubt, but that is not what the man beaten half-to-death did in Jesus’ parable. It was obvious what he needed—real care, not words, slogans, or social progress—and similarly today, real love is not so easy, convenient, or about classifying people together. Love, instead, singles out the stranger and treats him as we would want to be treated.

Outrage at certain men being killed is not a motive for love. These anarchists, rioters, protesters, and purveyors of racial guilt must be told sternly: only Christ can raise the dead, earthly attempts at justice will not. You cannot love a dead person in reality, because he is not your neighbor anymore. Citizens do not have authority over police. Lighter-skinned people are not guilty for the actions of people of  similar appearance. But we all are guilty of not loving the neighbor right in front of us—every single person.

The victim in the Jesus’ parable is not the Samaritan—the one of the first century’s “oppressed class.” He is the one loving and doing, showing it is not a matter of outward privilege to love. All created men are made by the Father to love. You have a neighbor to love in front of you. He is not some color abstraction. Loving is not so simple for the Christian as supporting a social movement. Jesus condemns the outwardly successful stereotypes (Jewish priest and Levite), because compassion and love are not bound by skin-color, social class, or a particular group. It must go must deeper, to be like God’s love for us. “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

But many feel bad, threatened, or unfairly identified by police action and possible mistreatment. Are we to love them by joining their cause for change and some form of make-up justice? No, that is not what God commands. Love, as defined in the Bible, is not social or at the class level, but individual and personal. Help and love that person you know. But it is hard to fully love someone you do not know and actually interact with, in any biblical sense. We must get down in the mud to love—to be with a particular person. In the same way our Lord took on human flesh and blood to carry our burdens to the cross.

In the scriptural commands to love, “neighbor” is always singular. It should not be redefined to denote a class of people. Why the move to group people together? It makes love easy, clean, and simple. If the politicians, laws, institutions, or authorities are the ones who need to change, I do not. After all, how can you love an impersonal institution or system—it can only be dismantled and replaced.

Guilt is easily assuaged in class oversimplifications, but it is all about me, not my neighbor. This self-justification is condemned by God, because He does not show partiality—with regard to skin color or race, “showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Dt. 5:10). Only He judges justly with righteousness—which should make us cower, because we have passed by our neighbor in need of our help. But our Lord has compassion on sinners. We do not get to define how it looks. If we reject His forgiveness, then we will get justice—for our sins, not just against the others we think most deserve it.

Race is a not a biblical concept—we are all children of Adam—why the need to divide, instead of unite? It is not biblical to single out people arbitrarily based on skin color, but neither are we to pass them by—that is also sin. Scripture says the neighbor is the one close to us, whether they are different or not. True godly love is color-blind, not filtered by social justice blinders.

Grouping people together by some earthly characteristic is disingenuous and also dehumanizing. It prevents real acts of love. Fighting a war for earthly justice gets in the way of compassion and true works of love. The parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates that we are all different and suffer uniquely—but he actually helped someone personally—he did not abstract the dying man at the class-level. He did not carry a sign or repeat a slogan as a mantra, he loved as a real, tangible action.

Who are you trying to help? And what are you doing for them? Emotion and feeling is not enough. The Samaritan was a victim by earthly standards, but not in way Jesus portrayed this hypothetical underprivileged man. Love is not the prerogative of the ruling class. It is the way of God’s people—the only grouping that matters eternally—are to be recognized: By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. This love endures. Amen.