he gets us logo
He Gets Us - Banner

Loving your neighbor is nearly impossible. How can we do it?

4 min

All of the images in this gallery were shot by international fine art photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten.

So, who is my neighbor?

Remember the golden rule? Treat others the way you would like to be treated? Well, Jesus had a version of that: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He wasn’t the first one to say it — it was written into Jewish law — but he confirmed that it was one of the most important things for us to do, one of the major keys to a fulfilled life. So, who is my neighbor?

Jesus was asked that exact question, and his answer made some things pretty clear. He told a story: A man is walking down a road when he is jumped by some robbers and beaten within an inch of his life. A little later on, a priest walking down the road — a priest of the dying man’s same ethnicity and religion — sees him lying there and walks right past him. Sometime later, another holy man with a similar background walks right past the dying man as well. Finally, a Samaritan man — a complete stranger from a culture that was a historic enemy to the Jewish people — walks up and bandages the man’s wounds, puts him on his own personal donkey, and takes him to an inn where he pays out of pocket for him to stay and be healed.

Jesus was asked about neighbors and answered with a story of travelers. Why? Because your neighbors are not just the people you live and spend your time with. Your neighbor is anyone you interact with. Whether you know them, like them, look like them, or not, they’re your neighbor. Jews and Samaritans often hated each other. They had a long history of bad blood. Jesus was painting a picture of total opposites.

Have you ever been to the airport and sat down across from someone you’re certain would disagree with you on every one of your fundamental beliefs? You can just tell by the way they dress, the book they’re reading, the food they brought to the gate — your view of the world and theirs must be irreconcilable. Are you picturing that person in your mind? Great. That’s your neighbor. And so is the man asking for change at the red light. And the family member who is estranged. And the person you’re hoping doesn’t move in next door. They’re all your neighbors.

So then, the second part of the equation is figuring out what it means to love all those neighbors as yourself. This is where it gets hard. In the story he told, to love our neighbors requires altering our plans and path to be kind to people without ever expecting anything in return. The way Jesus talked about it, loving your neighbor is wholly inconvenient, wildly selfless, and nearly impossible to do well all the time.

But Jesus didn’t seem to care about us doing it perfectly. His teachings suggest that he wanted us to consider our intentions and do the work to act from a place of empathy. Eventually, loving our neighbors is an action that can become intuitive. So, how do we do that? There are three simple steps that can help. When Jesus told that story and mentioned that a Samaritan man was walking down the road, the crowd would’ve tensed up. Many hated Samaritans. But Jesus shockingly made the Samaritan the hero, perhaps showing the first step in being a good neighbor is to avoid judging others. Jesus didn’t teach hate or assume the worst.

Another clue is in the word “neighbor.” In Greek, the language in which this story was written, this word is “plesion,” which just means “near.” The Samaritan man whom Jesus sets up as the model good neighbor? He approaches the dying man. He gets close. The other two walk past on the other side of the road. So, step two is to practice drawing near to people we would otherwise avoid. To strike up a conversation. To listen to their perspective.

Imagine for a moment if the people pictured in the video did exactly that — listened to one another as a neighbor. They might not come to agreement, but they certainly would become better neighbors — by getting close and listening.

And the final clue is in how the Samaritan man puts everything on hold to care for the dying man. It’s an extreme example, but at its core, the man is putting the needs of another above his own. Step three is to choose humility. To put yourself in the other person’s shoes and to attend to their needs like you would take care of your own. Jesus modeled this by washing his disciples’ feet — the teacher humbling himself before his students. Jesus wasn’t blinded by quick judgments, and neither was the Samaritan. They both got close and then put their neighbor’s needs above their own. They loved their neighbors. What would it look like if we all made an effort to love ours?

Scripture References: Luke 10:25-37, John 13:1-17