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Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Who is my neighbor?

Lynne Baab • Thursday January 17 2019

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Who is my neighbor?

The story in Luke 10:25-37 about the good Samaritan is one of the best-loved stories of the Bible. The story and Jesus’ words before and after he tells it provide helpful teaching about the kind of intentionality in friendship to which God calls us.

Most readers focus on the drama in the story: the man who is beaten up and robbed, the people who pass by on the other side of the road and the Samaritan who unexpectedly gives aid and demonstrates care and concern across cultural and ethnic boundaries. I love the story in itself, but I’ve always been equally interested in the circumstances of when and why Jesus told it.

The story follows the return of the seventy, who have been sent out by Jesus to preach and heal. After the disciples come back and debrief with Jesus, an expert in the law “stood up to test Jesus.” He asks what he should do to inherit eternal life.

Jesus replied, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”

The man 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.”

Jesus tells him he has given the right answer. The man then asks, “Who is my neighbor?”

At that point, Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan and ends the story by asking the expert in the law which character in the story was a neighbor to the man who was robbed. The answer is obvious, and the man responds, “The one who showed him mercy.”

When the man asked, “Who is my neighbor,” he was asking who he should consider as a neighbor. After Jesus told the story, he asked who had acted like a neighbor. Jesus shifted the emphasis of the question. The expert in the law was asking him to define a category of people, the people who fit into this group called “neighbor.” Jesus instead emphasized a category of actions, the actions that are neighborly.

Our task, Jesus is implying, is not to figure out who fits into the category of neighbor so we can love them. Instead our challenge is to figure out when and how to act in a neighborly fashion, how to be a neighbor.

This story has profound implications for friendship. I invite you to ponder the difference in your life between the category of people you call friends and the actions of being friendly that you may extend to people within and outside your circle of friendship. Friendship can be viewed as a verb – maybe the verb “friending” if we can detach it from purely online connotations – and God calls us to grow in the actions of friendship.

(Next week: Friendship as action. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column of the webpage. This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World.)

This is the tenth post in a series. The previous posts are:
Nuturing friendships in a cellphone world                
Strong opinions and responses                 
My conversation partners about friendship          
Two views about commmunication technologies            
Changing defintions of friendship                 
Confidence about friendship                
Friendship with God                  
Jesus as friend                      
Friendship with Christ and friendship with others                    

Listening is a key friendship skill. I've got three articles on this website about listening. One of them won an award for an article on social justice and builds on the ideas in this post. You can access the articles here.

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