Who is my neighbour?

Mark Barrell

Posted: 17 September 2015

The following is an opinion piece written by Mark Barrell to give thought and help us reflect on the current refugee crisis.

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?"
Luke 10:29 (ESV)

Luke records that it was a lawyer who initially asked this question. He successfully answered Jesus' cross-examination about his interpretation of the law correctly, but then sought to impress others by making Jesus answer the question of just who these "neighbours" were that he had to love?He should have known when to sit down!

What followed was a hard hitting no nonsense response from Jesus that didn't let anyone in earshot off the hook – especially those who would have deemed themselves worthy of eternal life.

As is well known, it was the Samaritan, from a despised and openly hated ethnic group, who was the hero of the story and came to the rescue of the half dead traveller. Shockingly, no mercy was shown by the religious elite, who were unwilling to interact with the tragedy they witnessed on the road to Jericho.

Two thousand years on from when this question was first posed a brutal conflict and ensuing tragedy has been going on in Syria in which an estimated seven million people have been internally displaced and four million have left their borders to find safety. But it is the pictures of children literally being washed up on European shores and thousands being carried on the shoulders and backs of parents that has caused us all in recent days to ask "who is my neighbour?".

Can our response to Syria (and other world conflicts) really be "This is not my problem" or "I can't sully myself with them – it would not honour my faith" (in the same vein as the Priest and Levite travelling down a Jericho Road)? Or are we willing to see past "appearances" and offer care and hospitality to those who are very different from us and certainly in distress, even those of a different ethnicity, nationality and religion? If we are Christians then we need to be mindful that the "law" about which Jesus was being asked includes these words "Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow" – Deut 27:19.

What the lawyer ignored as he sought to justify himself to Jesus was that to inherit eternal life by "doing" something then you have first to love God with all your heart, soul and mind. None of us can "do" that fully – only one person could: Jesus. And as the lawyer put the question to him, Jesus knew that he was soon to be the one who would be abused, stripped and beaten and left to die, not on the side of the road but on a cross. Jesus could have ignored our plight – but did not. He showed mercy to us by giving His very life as an atoning sacrifice for us with the offer of eternal care in the home of his Father in heaven.

So what is our response? It is held in the final analysis of four words – "Go, and do likewise".

There is no doubt that in amongst the displaced people worldwide (currently estimated at 60 million) many of those affected are Christians who need care and support following harrowing persecution. It is believed that of the 1.5 million Christians that lived in Iraq in 1991 only 250,000 remain. As John tells us in his gospel Jesus specifically said that "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." How then should we extend our care and love towards those who are suffering for their faith in Christ and not deny the needs of the fellowship of believers?

But there are others who though not Christians are in need of help too. As an infant Jesus experienced the plight of the asylum seeker, becoming a political refugee in a foreign land, fleeing with his family from a ruler who knew no limits on the abuse of power, and where the killing of innocent children was actively encouraged. He was protected by finding refuge in a foreign land – that had once despised and abused his own people. Today well over a million people are being helped in Lebanon, where cross border hostility has abounded for years but where Christians are seeking to bridge the gap and provide for the many living in poverty in camps.

How will we support our fellow believers in this display of mercy? By encouraging our government to continue to support high level direct aid to these places of need? Would we be prepared to go further and with the same attitude as Christ, make a sacrifice to welcome others, to show biblical "loving- kindness"? Perhaps we could provide the opportunity for others to have the chance of a peaceful life, stability and security and the opportunity to hear the good news of the gospel and the chance to encounter the true Good Samaritan whose care will last for eternity.

We probably know who our neighbour is – the real challenge is to follow Christ and do likewise.

What will you do?

Action : What can we do as Christian lawyers?

There is currently an overwhelming amount of advice being given through social media and other platforms on what we should (and should not) be doing. Some suggestions that all of us can consider and some which we can all do, are:

Pray. If we truly believe in the power of God to change the direction of a nation and restore the broken then prayer must be our start, middle and end.

Give. Another answer that is obvious but needs to be acted on. For example:

Offer your home. Home for Good has set up an initiative offering the opportunity for children and young people who are coming to the UK as refugees without their parents to be provided with welcoming loving homes. Click here for more info.

Offer your skills. The Refugee Support Network has opportunities for volunteering whereby you can offer your time and skills to those in need.

Talk to your MP. Voice your concern about the many who are today facing huge persecution for their faith and ask how they are seeking to raise the issue within government.

Learn more. The Jubilee centre have produced a short pamphlet in the "Thinking biblically about…" series specifically on immigration. You can down load by clicking here.

Join us on 19th October with Open Doors. Find out more here

Mark Barrell is the Executive Director of the LCF.