Perhaps at face value this question seems too simple to spend time answering. Yet this very question is the one a lawyer chose to ask Jesus immediately after identifying the most important law to live by:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. Luke 10:27
Though it seems simple, this question begs us to launch out into the deep, beyond the surface, where Jesus himself can reveal the living way.
In today’s world, we define our neighbors as our families, our friends, those who live near us, and even perhaps co-workers that we get along with. But the parable Jesus chose to share with us in Luke, as a response to the lawyer, shows a slightly different perspective, one that calls us to an even higher understanding.
Jesus shows us that our neighbor is not just the people that we like and can be seen with, but rather our neighbor is anyone to whom we can show mercy and compassion. This means that whomever God leads us to, regardless of status or appearance, we are called to treat them as we would like to be treated ourselves.
We see in the parable that those who were familiar with the law shied away and avoided the wounded man, but the one who was unfamiliar with the law, the Samaritan, chose to help. Not only did he bind up the wounds of the fallen man, but he also brought him to an inn that he may rest. The Samaritan graciously made arrangements and willingly paid for his current and future care until his recovery.
Knowing Jesus means applying the law, not just knowing about the law. What we know of God has to translate into actions of love to benefit those around us and not just ourselves. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:41 that “whosoever shall compel [us] to go a mile, go with him twain” meaning that we have to go beyond what is expected of us to ensure full completion of our requirements as neighbors. That we are not just doing the minimum to get by, but rather we are employing the totality of our focus, energy, and love to help others rise above the difficulties of life.
And so, when we ask ourselves during the course of our daily lives, “who is my neighbor?” Let us remember that our neighbor is whomever God chooses to lead us to and that what we do to the least, we do it unto God.