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From The Chaplain's Desk: Who is my neighbor?
 

By Charles Dimmick, CT State Grange Chaplain

  OCTOBER 1, 2020 --

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, You shall love your neighbor as yourself – Leviticus 19:18

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself – Leviticus 19:34

But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” – Luke 10:29 

It is sometimes difficult to translate from Hebrew or Aramaic into English. Often there is no exact translation possible. There are five different Hebrew words which, depending on context, may be translated as “neighbor”.  For instance, if one wished to refer to the “next-door neighbor”, the Hebrew word used would probably be “qarob”.  But when we look at the passage from Leviticus the word used is “reya”, which has a wide variety of meanings, including associate, brother, companion, fellow, friend, husband, lover, or neighbor. In short, it may include anyone with whom you have any sort of relationship or dealings. To close any loopholes the Law in Leviticus goes on to say, “you shall love the alien as yourself”.  

In the passage from Luke the lawyer questioning Jesus decides, as lawyers often do, to nitpick and to ask, “who is my neighbor?”  In other words, given the wide number of meanings possible for “reya”, how do I decide who is covered by this law? Jesus replies by telling the parable of the “Good Samaritan” and then asks the lawyer “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?”  The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Note that in this episode there is a role reversal.  Rather than showing to whom we should be a neighbor it shows someone being a neighbor to us. The person being “neighborly” is a stranger, an alien, a Samaritan [Jews of that time avoided having any dealings with Samaritans]. Then we are told to “go and do likewise”. 

In practice this means we should treat everyone with whom we come in contact as our neighbor and show them as much love as we would our family or our “next-door” neighbors. Further, this love should be as much as we love ourselves. The goal is established; now we need to strive to achieve it.

 
 
 

 
     
     
       
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