Love your neighbour as you love yourself, the Bible says – at least that’s what most English translations say. I don’t know why the Hebrew word “rea” (pronounced: ré-a) has been translated as “neighbour”, it’s a word which can be used in the sense of “friend” but is also used in the sense of “fellow human being”; we have a different word for someone who lives near you: sha-khen. Maybe back in the day when whoever it was first searched for an English word to put there, the word “neighbour” was being used as a general term for “fellow human being”, like “rea” in Hebrew?
The reason I’m thinking about it just now is that I heard a preacher this evening talk about the parable of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus was asked to define who qualifies as “rea” in the context of this commandment, and this preacher was focusing on “neighbour” in the sense of: people living next door, or on the same street, or in your neighbourhood. And yes, of course I agree they are included in the group of people we are told to love, but not because they live near us – they’re included because they are our fellow humans.
And Jesus didn’t talk about people living next door, did he?
Actually, he seems to have totally ignored this guy’s question and answered a totally different one – which may be his way of saying: change your focus, people, you’re looking at this whole thing the wrong way round!
What do I mean? Here’s what I see happening there (it’s in Luke 10 if you want to look it up):
This guy knew about the command to love our “rea” as we love ourselves, and, like most people, he found it a tough one to live up to. A natural human reaction to stuff like that is to try and limit the scope of the command, to narrow it down to something like “only people I like” or “only my tribe” or “only those in my neighbourhood” etc. Because loving everybody is a tall order. So what he was looking for when he asked Jesus “who is my rea” was some kind of narrow definition, something that would make it seem doable.
Now, Jesus doesn’t even bother to say: the term “rea” here applies to everybody. No, instead he focuses on what the command is actually about – what does loving your “rea” actually mean? And what we see in the example he gives is not a friendship type of love, not a getting on well together and going out for a beer/inviting them for a cup of tea kind of love, but a practical, helpful kind of love: seeing another person’s need and doing something about it.
And, by the way, it seems Jesus is saying, by the way, it doesn’t matter if that person is one of your tribe or not, if he’s someone you’d normally be seen talking to or not, if he’s someone who likes you or not. You see another person’s need, you feel compassion and you do something about it – that’s what this commandment is about.