Who is My Neighbor?

Throughout Church history, faithful Christians have interpreted Scripture in an array of different ways. Allegory was a dominant interpretive approach in the Church’s first few centuries, and its influence endures today. A hallmark of the allegorical mode of interpretation involves reading the details of the text as representations of a deeper, spiritual reality.

Origen, a 3rd century theologian and bishop, is known for his allegorical approach to interpreting Scripture. The example below is Origen’s allegorical reading of the parable of the Good Samaritan from a collection of his homilies on the gospel of Luke. Here, Origen sees in nearly every detail and character of the parable a corresponding element in the larger story of redemptive history:

"The man who was going down is Adam. Jerusalem is paradise, and Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers. The priest is the law, the Levite is the prophets, and the Samaritan is Christ. The wounds are disobedience. The beast is the Lord's body. The inn which accepts all who wish to enter is the church. The two denarii mean the Father and the Son. The manager of the stable is the head of the church, to whom its care has been entrusted. The fact that the Samaritan promises he will return represents the savior's second coming.”

Although Origen’s insistence upon assigning a deeper, spiritual meaning to the parable’s minutiae might sound odd to our modern ears, this method of interpretation reveals some truths worth contemplating. For instance, with the benefit of being able to look back on the scope of Jesus’ earthly ministry, how might the Samaritan’s kindness in the parable accurately portray the character of Christ? Could it be helpful to conceive of the church as an inn accepting those most in need of care? If the Church were to adopt this as part of her self-understanding, who stands to benefit?

In addition to raising some questions worth pursuing, allegorical interpretation also invites us as readers to pause and look closely at familiar texts that we might otherwise be tempted to brush past. Pentecostal theologian and professor Chris Green offers his own allegorical reading of the parable that both builds upon Origen’s approach while also departing from it in significant ways. Green’s reading, which takes the form of the poem below, invites us to ask of ourselves the same question that gave rise to the parable in the first place, namely, “Who is my neighbor?”

God is not our neighbor
by Chris E.W. Green

1.
We suffer, we seethe, 
Protest, invoke, fester, beg. 
Pray and pray and wait.

And wait and wait and -- 
nothing

2.
In the dark, God wonders why
We wait, why we ask
For him--
you have each other!

God is not our neighbor

3.
I am the man good as dead
In the road, the lurking 
Brigands and the hasty priests.

You, you are the stranger, showing
An alien kindness, the weary keeper
Waiting like my brother at the inn

God? Well, God is Jerusalem and Jericho,
And the treacherous road that binds them;
the ass that bears us, the inn 
(in which there's always room), 
and the coins that buy our stay.

God is the binding that binds all wounds.
God is the oil and the wine.

4.
God is not our neighbor, and cannot be,
Waits and prays for you, for me--
Samaritan, scapegoat, sinner, saint--
To find each other
In the dark

You are the one to bind my wounds.
Yours is the oil and the wine.

As the poem’s title indicates, well-meaning Sunday School answers to the question, “Who is my neighbor” might not be sufficient. Instead, like the lawyer in Luke 10, we are confronted with the (perhaps disorienting) reality that God’s gifts of provision to us come through one another, even those whom we might least expect. Or, as Green has said elsewhere, “God promises not only to provide for us, but also that we will ourselves be the provision.”

Solid Rock Kids: God Gives Ezekiel a Vision

God Gives Ezekiel a Vision 

Bible Passage to reread:  Ezekiel 1 

Memory Verse to reinforce: 1 Chronicles 16:31b (NIrV): “Let them say among the nations, ‘The LORD rules!’” 

Key Ideas: God rules the nations. 

Questions to ask your kids:

  1. What did Ezekiel see in his vision of heaven?

  2. How do you think Ezekiel felt about the vision God gave him?

  3. What can we do as a family to help make sure people of all nations know the good news of Jesus?

Solid Rock Kids: Jesus is Alive

Bible Passage to reread:  John 20:1–29;Luke 24:50–53 

Memory Verse to reinforce: 1 Peter 1:3b (NIrV): “This hope is living because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.”

Key Ideas: Jesus rose from the dead and he’s alive today. 

Questions to ask your kids:

  1. What happened to Jesus after he died?

  2. What did Jesus do after he rose from the dead?

  3. How do you think Jesus’ friends felt when they saw him alive?

  4. How can we make sure we honor Jesus in our Easter celebrations? 

Solid Rock Kids: The Cross

This week, we’ll turn our attention to the cross as an expression of God’s great love for us.

Bible Passage to reread:  Mark 14-15

Memory Verse to reinforce:

Romans 5:8b (NIrV): “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Key Ideas: Jesus died on the cross. 

Questions to ask your kids:

  1. How do you feel when you have to go to the doctor for a shot? 

  2. How do you think Jesus felt going to the cross? 

  3. Why didn’t Jesus use his awesome power to stop his own death? 

  4. Why do you think some people wear a cross as jewelry or decoration?

Solid Rock Kids: Elijah Goes to Heaven

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As we continue our eight-week journey through Covenant History, we have arrived at the character of Elijah! This week, we’ll discuss what faithfulness looks like. Continue to reinforce memory verses from previous weeks as you discuss this week’s questions.

Bible Passage to reread: 2 Kings 2

Memory Verse to reinforce: Hebrews 11:6b (NIrV): “God... rewards those who look to him.”

Key Ideas: God rewards faithfulness.

Questions to ask your kids:

What does faithfulness mean? 

Who are some people from the Bible who showed faithfulness? 

Why should you obey God even when no one notices? 

Solid Rock Kids: Solomon's Good Name

In Lesson 7 of our look at Covenant History, we’ll explore the biblical character Solomon and talk about the importance of our choices and actions.

Bible Passage to reread: 1 Kings 10

Memory Verse to reinforce: Matthew 5:16 (NIrV): “‘Let your light shine so others can see it...bring glory to your Father who is in heaven.’”

Key Ideas: My actions can draw attention to God.

Questions to ask your kids:

Do you think Solomon honored God with his choices? 

How did the Queen of Sheba and others respond to King Solomon? 

How do you think others (teachers, friends, classmates, relatives) would describe the way you treat them? 

What are some things you can do to bring attention to God by acting in wise ways?

Solid Rock Kids: David & Goliath

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We’ve arrived at lesson 6 of our Covenant History portion of the Books of the Bible. This week, we’ll talk about courage as we revisit the story of David and Goliath.

Bible Passage to reread: 1 Samuel 17 

Memory Verse to reinforce: Romans 1:16a (NIrV): “I’m not ashamed of the good news.”

Key Ideas: I can stand strong in my faith

Questions to ask your kids:

How do you think David felt facing Goliath? 

What do you think gave David such courage? 

How can you rely on God for strength when faced with a challenge? 

How can you stand strong in your faith?

Solid Rock Kids: God Uses Rahab

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In Lesson 5 of the Covenant History portion of Books of the Bible, we look at the story of Rahab and consider how God can use us as part of His plan.

Bible Passage to reread: Joshua 2; 6:20–25 

Memory Verse to reinforce: Jeremiah 29:11a (NIrV): “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ announces the LORD. ‘I want you to enjoy success.’”

Key Ideas: I can play a part in God’s plan.

Questions to ask your kids:

How did God use Rahab in his plan? 

What can you learn from the story of Rahab? 

How can God use you as part of his plan?

Solid Rock Kids: God Gives Moses the Law

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Lesson 4 of the Books of the Bible series on Covenant History deals with the Ten Commandments.

Bible Passage to reread: Deuteronomy 4–7

Memory Verse to reinforce: Romans 6:23a (NIrV): “When you sin, the pay you get is death. But God gives you the gift of eternal life.”

Key Ideas: God wants me to avoid sin.

Questions to ask your kids:

How did God give the Ten Commandments to people? 

What are some of the Ten Commandments? 

Which of the Commandments are hardest for you to obey? 

What can you do when you realize you’ve sinned?

Solid Rock Kids: God Speaks to Moses

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We’ve reached Week 3 of the Books of the Bible series on Covenant History. This week, the lesson focuses on God calling Moses to lead His people out of Egypt.

Bible Passage to reread: Exodus 3–4

Memory Verse to reinforce: John 14:23 (NIrV): “Jesus replied, ‘...We will come to them and make our home with them.’”

Key Ideas: God wants a relationship with me.

Questions to ask your kids:

How did Moses feel about leading the Israelites out of Egypt?

Why do you think God chose Moses for that job? 

How did God speak to Moses? 

How can you have a relationship with God?