But I love to learn new things about any passage which has become familiar to me. This happened recently in a conversation with a colleague, Dr. Chris Morgan. Chris is the brilliant Dean of Christian Studies at CBU. Hopefully I am representing Chris' comments correctly, but he indicated something very interesting to me about the story. Chris said that the question asked of Jesus by the Lawyer was not really to identify who his neighbor is, but rather who his neighbor is not. That may have been obvious to you but it sure wasn't to me, at least not in that way. It also says he was trying to justify himself. Why would he be trying to justify himself? He wanted to see if his non-neighbors were the right group. The Lawyer's assumption obviously implies that in his mind, that although there were people who were his neighbor, there were people who were not his neighbor. So he just wanted to see if those who he didn't see as his neighbor were the same ones that Jesus wouldn't see as his neighbor. I hope I got Chris' point correct.
As I thought through his observation, it also seemed to me, that Jesus was then providing an illustration for the Lawyer of what it looks like if you don't choose an individual or a group of people as your neighbor. Both the Priest and Levite did not see the man who was beaten and left half dead as their neighbor, probably for a variety of reasons. In contrast, the Samaritan saw people of a different ethnic group, who were considered "enemies", who were in great need, who potentially put him in danger, who could do nothing for themselves, as his neighbor. This is much more in line with the Leviticus 19 passage which the story references (Leviticus 19, especially verses 9-18). Jesus asks the Lawyer, "Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" The Lawyer responded "The one who showed him mercy" possibly responding that way because he didn't even want to use the word Samaritan. He was still trying to separate people into the two groups of
I think we can sometimes do that in reference to persons with disabilities. We ask the question, "Who is my neighbor?" and then answer it "Those with disabilities are not my neighbor" justifying (like the lawyer) our lack of concern for persons with the characteristic called impairment. I have actually heard people say that people with disabilities are not a priority for ministry, ie. they are not my neighbor. So this is a real distinction which may at times continue today.
But from a disability perspective, Jesus totally blows up the restrictive notion of who our neighbor is. He describes the man beaten and left half-dead as our neighbor. Think that through a minute. He was a man who could do absolutely nothing for himself. He is not described as doing anything at all for himself, not even calling out. So once again the answer from a disability perspective to, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus describes someone with very severe disabilities at the moment and perhaps into the future.