The Compassionate Neighbor

“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?’ And he said, ‘The one who showed mercy toward him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do the same’” (Luke 10.36-37).[1]



When we read, we hone in on various keys in the text. We do the same thing with our hearing. I’m sure you’ve heard the familiar phrase “selective hearing.” That is usually a charge laid at the foot of the spouse who has failed to give an attentive ear to their significant other. It is not as if we do not hear, but we hear what we want to. A word, a phrase, an idea or symbol catches our minds eye and we run with it. We then filter out everything else said. Or in the case of the subject I started with “we…filter everything else we read out.”

A little Info on Luke 10:23-37

In the above text we find Jesus presenting a question to his questioner. Jesus has been teaching the masses in Israel. He has been demonstrating His authority and power. His knowledge and wisdom have been put on display. Everyone that witnesses Him is confronted by Him. Either He is an egotistical madman, or He is who He claims to be (cf. Luke 10.23-24).

A scribe or a “lawyer” (NASB), which is just another way of saying “an expert in the law” decides that testing the Lord is a good idea. He inquires: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10.25). This question is not really the question. Or said another way, this question is not really the issue that this religious leader is driving at. Remember, his desire was to test Jesus; to set a trap.

What this means for the reader is that when the religious expert asked the question, he was looking for a specific answer. He was ready for the answer given by the Lord. He anticipated it, as we shall see in a moment.

Jesus pointed this lawyer to the Law-Word of God. “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” (Luke 10.26). Every good Bible believing Jew knew the answer to this question. This expert in the law was ready for this moment. Immediately he recites a summary of the Law-Word of God:

“And he answered, ‘You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10.27).

Jesus acknowledges that the man is right, and then says “Do this and you will live” (Luke 10.28). And here is where we see that the questioner revealing his hand: “But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10.29; italics added). Let’s let that simmer for a bit….

Introducing the Compassionate Argument

Recently, given the current COVID-19 pandemic I’ve been hearing of a great push for compassion on the eldest generation in our nation. The politically driven left winged media (a.k.a., the progressives) have attempted, with some force, to use their soapbox to ridicule Trump. Under the guise of what I now term the “compassion argument.”

We all know that “social distancing” has now become the immediate norm. Handshaking is for the foreseeable future off limits. And no longer will it be found acceptable to go to work or perhaps even venture into public if you catch a cold, a sniffle, or have an irritating cough. It could just be allergies, but “HEY” we don’t want to take a chance that you “might” be the death of “ME.”[2]

So, what is the “compassionate argument” or the “argument of compassion?” The argument of compassion states that we need to be concerned about the welfare of others. In other words, we need to be loving our neighbors.

From a practical standpoint the argument is said to look like this: Social distancing, avoiding all forms of brotherly (human) contact, and staying home when sick. If you fail to do these things. If you fail to stay away (6 feet now!) from people in public. If you cough, have a runny nose, go somewhere feeling fine and then end up feeling a bit under the weather, then, well there’s no other way to put it…SHAME ON YOU!

I say all of these things with my tongue firmly pressed in my cheek and a bit of a smirk etching on my face. I think that, as far as it goes, we ought to do these things to the best of our ability. We should be washing our hands, covering our mouths when we cough, blowing our nose rather than letting it drip onto our lips so that we can spit it on the unaware passerby when we enter into conversation.

If you feel sick and you are able to, stay home. Some might prefer that you always stay home if you get sick, but some of us have deadlines, inspections and unfortunately live week-to-week; and so, while staying home with a head cold might be desired it is not practical.

Back to Luke 10 and the Word called Love

When the religious expert asked Jesus the question about the greatest commandment, he was looking for a specific answer. When the media or some other uses the compassionate argument, they are doing the same thing. Sometimes when Christians read their Bible’s and they read or rehearse from memory the loving God/loving neighbor commandment, they too hone in on a specific answer. More to the point, they look to a particular word “love.”

Most people would probably say that love is a good thing. Hard to remember when you’ve been heart broken, but overall, mostly true. Emphasizing love may also be a good thing, but it is the manner in which we emphasize it, the sense in which we take it, prescribe it, live by it that determines whether or not this is true.

My concern in this post is what emphasis of love we as Christians place on it. I am not saying that the world does not love. Certainly, there is a version of love in the world, but that love is not comparable bit-by-bit, piece-by-piece with the Christian concept.

Seeking justification…

The scribe wanted to know “who his neighbor was?” The identity of his neighbor was the motivation for asking the question. The reason the scribe asked Jesus the question was to trap him. He had set a snare and he wanted Jesus to step right into it. From a historical and cultural context Jesus did a lot of things that irritated his fellow Israelites; the religious establishment in particular. One of those things was socializing with what I suppose we might call the “outcasts” of society. The “misfit toys” from the classic Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer clay-style cartoon.

The scribe wanted Jesus to answer the question of the greatest commandment in order to pigeon hole the Lord into looking like a fool. Jesus had a reputation of associating with tax-collectors, prostitutes, and…Samaritans. If loving God was the chief goal of a godly person, which entailed being clean before God (not touching or dealing with that which defiled a person), then it did not appear Jesus fit the bill.

Being ceremonially clean was a legitimate concern for the Israelite as seen in the books of Moses. Since the Exodus God had set the offspring of Jacob (Israel) apart from the rest of the nations. This was a sign that they were God’s people. This was a status that they were set-apart (holy; i.e., clean) from the filth that permeated other nations. The religious elites of Jesus’ day had misinterpreted and misapplied the meaning of those texts, and so were in error. This man sought to justify himself as a true lover of God and he did so by insinuating that not everyone was his neighbor. For the non-ceremonially clean—those sinners outside of covenant Israel—he did not associate with.

This attitude is highlighted in Jesus’ parabolic teaching of the “Good Samaritan” in contrast to the religious leaders of Israel (Luke 10.30-33). The priest and the Levite steered clear of the man beaten on the road half-dead (i.e., left for dead). But not the Samaritan. This “unclean” Gentile-mingled mongrel (what the Jews of the period thought) demonstrated love for neighbor. He was compassionate (loving) on the person in need.

And so, Jesus’ question of the questioner at the end of his teaching— “Which…proved to be a neighbor…?” —nipped the issue in the bud. The Lord effectively flipped the trap on his opponent. How so? Well, to love God entailed loving one’s neighbor. And though it is impossible to love your “neighbor” without loving God first, you cannot really have love for God in your heart if you don’t love your neighbor (cf. 1John 3.17-18).

With expertise that could not be matched Jesus disarmed the trap and reset it for His unwary opponent. In other words, Jesus anticipated the follow-up question and answered the question in the way He did (which was biblically accurate) in order to entrap His antagonist. He does it by citing Leviticus 19:18.

A Quick Look at Leviticus

 I find this to be most interesting, and since it deals with the compassionate argument identified above, I want to make my final point with it.

 “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”

This text is sandwiched between two chapters filled with material that many Evangelical’s steer away from (some from embarrassment). Chapter 18 starts with God commanding Moses what to say to the offspring of Israel (Jacob). He says,

  • “You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes and, to live in accord with them; I am the Lord your God” (Lev 18.3-4).

Towards the closing of chapter 20 we find the charge reiterated:

  • “You are therefore to keep all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them, so that the land to which I am bringing you to live will not spew you out. Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I will drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them…I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples… ‘Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine’” (Lev 20.22-23, 24, 25).

The point being that God had called and set-apart the children of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in order to be His people (cf. Exod 19:4-6). He expected them to reflect His mind/heart. He commanded them to honor His Law, to be Holy as He is holy (Lev 19.2). The concern is to be different than the rest of the nations of this world. To be guided by the voice of God, to live according to His will, and not entertain the thoughts and practices of those nations that He had drawn them from (Egypt), and was giving them to possess (Canaan).

The command to love your neighbor came with numerous explanations (see Lev 19.9-18a). The key to remember was to be just in all things, which meant “…not be[ing] partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly” (Lev 19.15). To act in anyway contrary to the edicts of God in light of one’s neighbor was to act hatefully in one’s heart which was expressly forbidden (Lev 19.17).

How this relates to the “Compassionate Argument”

We have in this country settled in on one object of concern. We have narrowed our focus to the tip of a pen. The dreaded Corona virus (COVID-19) is in our crosshairs. Many see nothing else.

The virus is deadly. People have gotten sick and some have died. It is therefore argued that we need to shut everything down in concern (compassion/love) for our neighbor. But loving one’s neighbor is not one-sided. We have made it one-sided though. How so? We have shown partiality to one group while neglecting another.

This bed has been made for some time in our nation as it stands regarding partial love. Class warfare argues to favor the poor while neglecting the rich (add any other descriptor besides “poor” or “rich” and it’ll still apply). That’s a sanitized way of looking at it. Class warfare argues to hate one sector of society for things that many find distasteful (often because of jealous/envy/covetousness) covered in an argument of love and compassion for another. We are doing the same thing with this virus.

It is being said that we need to be compassionate to the elderly, to the weak…we need to prevent the spread of this virus lest we kill others. This sounds good. It appears sweet. But what about the family who will lose their home? They’ve lost their job, but if things do not change soon, they will lose more. What about those families who are hurting because the solution has robbed them of living? Why is it not possible to practice good hygiene and let those who are not sick return to work? Are we so foolish and arrogant to think that there are not other things that can kill just as easily as this little bug?

I am growing more and more convinced that we, in an effort to justify our fear and panic, want to sanitize false beliefs by calling them compassion. When in reality we care very little for our neighbor(s), and instead only care for our own skin!  


[1] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the New American Standard Bible (NASB 95’).

[2] **Yes, I know I went from plural to singular verb form there but I did it on purpose. The real concern in all of this isn’t really about our “neighbor,” but is for many just the sacred “ME” regardless of how strongly one might argue the contrary.


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