Who is my neighbour?
The God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob
In the Old Testament, God is often referred to as the ‘God of Abraham’ or the ‘God of Israel’ (i.e. the God of Jacob).
When God appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush on Mount Sinai, he said, “I am the God of your ancestors – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” (Genesis 3:6)
The Jewish people regarded themselves as “the family of Jacob” and the people of the God of Jacob (see Isaiah 2:6).
Mount Sinai - where God appeared to Moses (Mohammed Moussa)
Yahweh was regarded exclusively as the God of Israel:
When the second group of Jewish exiles returned from Babylon in 525BC under Zerubbabel, they “began to build the altar of the God of Israel.” (Ezra 3:2) When this Second ‘Temple of the God of Israel’ was completed in 516BC (Ezra 6:13-22), worship was exclusively for the descendants of Jacob, and Jewish men who had married foreign wives were forced to abandon them and their children (see Ezra 10:1-17).
Foreigners (Gentiles) were only allowed into the outer courts of the Temple in Jerusalem, and were not allowed in the inner courts. Fellow Jews were honoured and supported, while foreigners were often despised and hated. The pleas of the prophets to “Help the orphans” and “Stand up for the rights of widows” (Isaiah 1:17) were felt to apply only to Jewish orphans and widows – not to Gentiles.
Jerusalem - The Temple Mount (Avram Graicer)
The Greatest Commandment
In this context, Jesus was asked by an expert on the Law of Moses which was the greatest of all the commandments in the Torah (the Jewish Law). In line with Jewish teaching Jesus answered:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5). “This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’” (Leviticus 19:18). “All the law and the writings of the prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:35-40)
Many Jews in Jesus’s day believed that keeping the commandment “Love your neighbour” meant being kind to their fellow Jews only. One day, an expert on the law came to Jesus and asked how he could gain eternal life. Jesus asked him if he kept these two commandments. Wishing to show the importance of his question, the man said “And who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:25-37)
Jesus replied by telling the story of a foreigner - the ‘good’ Samaritan - who tended the wounds of a Jewish man and cared for him, even though the Jew would have despised him as a man of mixed race. Unlike other Jewish teachers of his day, Jesus taught that loving your neighbour meant loving all fellow human beings regardless of their race or nationality.
The road from Jerusalem to Jericho - site of the story of the 'Good Samaritan'
While Judaism continues today to be largely an exclusive religion for those born into a Jewish family, the New Testament affirms that God loves people of all nationalities and treats all people equally, whatever their race or origin.
Paul, in his letter to the gentile Greek (non-Jewish) believers in Galatia sums it up by saying, “In Christ, there is no difference between Jew and Greek, slave and free person, male and female. You are all the same in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
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