“Who exactly do I have to be nice to? I do want to be obedient to God and treat others right, I just want some confirmation as to who all this includes. And by the way, I think I’m doing pretty well at being kind to others, I just want to hear it from you. Bottom line: Who is my neighbor?”
And so with the question “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus told a story (Luke 10:25-37). For us it’s a familiar story, but for the lawyer who was seeking to prove to Jesus how good he really was, it was shocking. This lawyer, who was hoping to trick Jesus, was wanting a simple answer. “Just tell me who my neighbor is,” he most likely thought, “so I can show you how loving I really am.” But Jesus’ story didn’t exactly offer the affirmation for which this young lawyer was looking.
“There was a man who was going from Jerusalem to Jericho,” began Jesus. “As he was walking, he fell among robbers who stripped him, beat him, stole his money, and left him almost dead. A priest happened to be traveling by and when seeing this man, he passed by on the other side. A Levite also was traveling on this road and when he saw this man, he did the same as the priest and passed him by. BUT A SAMARITAN, when he saw this man, he had compassion for him. He helped him up, began to take care of his wounds, put him on his mule, carried him to the closest inn, and paid for him to stay there until he regained his strength. So who was the neighbor?”
We know from Scripture what the lawyer said (see Luke 10:37), but I wonder what he was thinking. He had to be shocked that a Samaritan was actually the neighbor. How could that be? The Samaritans were not respected at all by the Jews. They were the outcasts and the outsiders and yet in this story, it was the Samaritan who satisfied the requirements of the law.
Plus, this lawyer might have thought that what the priest and the Levite did by passing by was not that bad. After all, they didn’t know who this injured man was. Was he another Jew? They really couldn’t tell since he was all beaten up and stripped naked. And so it probably wasn’t their responsibility. Neighbors are only other Jews, not Gentiles. Plus, what if he’s dead? To touch a dead body would mean defilement. It would be too risky to get involved. They had temple responsibilities.
The problem this lawyer had, along with the rest of us, was that he was more interested in who his neighbor was than in being a good neighbor. He wanted to draw a circle around those in whom he had “neighborly responsibility.” He was ready to help those in whom he was willing to help. There were parameters. Not everyone is a neighbor, right?
The point of Jesus story is not “Who is your neighbor?”, but “Are you ready to be a neighbor?” Helmut Thielicke writes that “we cannot go and do and love, if we stop and ask first, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ The devil has been waiting for us to ask this question; and he will always whisper into our ears only the most convenient answers.” Instead, he writes, “we need to ask ‘To whom am I a neighbor? Who is laid at my door? Who is expecting help from me and who looks upon me as his neighbor?'”
So who’s around you? Do you see them? This is the the starting point. It begins with the eyes. And don’t just look for people stranded on the road. They are easy to spot. Look for those we tend to overlook. What about the person at the drive through window who is rude? What about the check-out clerk at your local grocery store who seems lethargic about moving you through the line? Maybe they need a neighbor.
The reality is that we all need a “neighbor.” We talk about loving others, but until we realize that we have the greatest of all neighbors, our love will be short-lived. It is Jesus who has found us. He is our greatest neighbor. He saw us abandoned and half-dead on the side of the road. And yet he picked us up. He healed us. He brought life. He loved us. And so we love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). All our love for others is found in the love that God has for us. This is where being a neighbor begins!
So are you ready to be a neighbor today?