Who is my Neighbour?

Elderly lady from Peru
Elderly lady from Peru

A religious lawyer asked this question, “Who is my neighbour?”  This was part of a question and answer dialogue with Jesus. The man had first come to Jesus with a question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and Jesus challenged the lawyer to summarise the Jewish law.

  • “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
  • “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Jesus said that he had summed up the whole law correctly and said that if he did this he would live! Immediately the lawyer realised that he fell short of such high ideals and asked this further question, “And who is my neighbour?” Jesus did not define the word “neighbour” but told the well-known story known as “The parable of the Good Samaritan”.

The good Samaritan

Jewish tradition of the day would have defined a neighbour as someone who was of the same race and religion – a Jew. But Jesus deliberately defined “neighbour” as including someone from a different race, culture and religious persuasion. The Samaritans were despised, even hated, Surely this was going too far, his hearers thought!

If Jesus were to tell a story to us, today, he might define our neighbour as being an “immigrant”, a “benefit scrounger ,a “homosexual”, a “Moslem” or a “terrorist”. These are the people some of our newspapers encourage us to despise or hate. We may not hate them – but do we really need to love them? That is the challenge.


Concentric circles

Community can be thought of as being made up of concentric circles. Inner-most are:

  • Our spouse and children
  • Our extended families
  • Our friends
  • Our fellow group members  – our church, workplace, club etc

So far, the list is not too challenging: It is natural to love our spouse and our children. But the concentric circles continue and become more challenging:

  • Social Networking “friends”
  • People who live in our local village, town or city
  • People of a different class, economic or social grouping or of a different caste
  • People living in our country of our own race, culture and religion
  • People living in our midst but of a different race, culture or religion
  • Those who despise or hate us, or our enemies
  • People living in other countries
  • People living in other countries who are our national enemies

But Jesus cuts across this view of concentric circles. He puts no limits on “who is our neighbour?”. We are all connected. The human race is one big, single community and each individual is our neighbour. We are asked to love everyone, regardless of race, culture, religion, gender, class etc.

This is a big ask. It is not really possible to love everyone we meet as much as we love ourselves. We need God’s help to make it possible. But we are not let off the hook, whether Christian, Atheist, Moslem or whatever.


God’s will for man is a world totally motivated by love. Imagine a world where everyone looks after the interests of others. Imagine a world where there are no poor, nobody is despised, where there is no strife or warfare. Imagine a world where perfect justice rules. Imagine if all the money and resources spent on war were used to tackle diseases which have plagued mankind for so long. This would truly be God’s kingdom, here, on earth.

I am a dreamer, but also a realist. We are far from the ideal that I have outlined above. But come on folks! Let us see everyone we come in contact with as our neighbour, and seek to love them as we love God, and love our families and love ourselves.

Author: George Dowdell

I was the founder of Karuna Action (formerly Kingscare) and was the director for 24 years. I have now handed control over to younger people but continue as an advisor and trustee. My passion is to see extreme poverty eliminated and to see justice for the powerless.

3 thoughts on “Who is my Neighbour?”

  1. I know you like statistics. £30 billion a year would end world poverty. £30 billion is what is spent on the military….every 8 days !!!!


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