Who is My Neighbor?

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Luke 10:25-37 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he 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.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

I love this parable.  Luke tells this story of Jesus doing what he seemed to do over and over again– turning over tables.  The Lawyer asked him, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus does not answer his question, or should I say that he does not give the answer that anyone expects, least of all this lawyer.

The protagonist (neighbor) is a Samaritan.  Things were not good between the Jews and Samaritans. The Jews would have had nothing to do with a Samaritan, and surely would not consider them to be their neighbors. But here Jesus is using an outcast to be the example. This reminds me of when Jesus encounters the gentile centurion who had great faith. Jesus praised his faith and said

11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [Mat 8:11-12 ESV] (see Mt 8:5-8:15)

Jesus is not teaching in these passages that Jews will not be saved, he came as the Jewish messiah-he is Yeshua ha-mashiach. Instead, he is destroying the idea of racial or ethnic superiority. The Gospel is for all people groups. Jesus offers his great gift of salvation to the whole world.

Another thing going on here is that Jesus is tearing down any idea of our being able to be choosey when it comes to the command of love. The lawyer ask, “who is my neighbor” as if to say, “Surely I don’t have to love everyone this way.” But Jesus won’t have any of it. After the story Jesus ask, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” If he was dealing directly with the question asked shouldn’t he be telling a story about what kind of people were loveable? Shouldn’t the story tell us about who our neighbors are and aren’t?

Jesus is not saying who to love, but to be a person who loves. YOU have to be the neighbor. The command “Love your neighbor as yourself” is not one of reciprocation. If we love only those who love us, what reward do we have? (Mt 5:46-47) He does not tell us to love when it is convenient or to love the ones that love us. He tells us to love. This is how he loves us, is it not? 1 John 4:10 says:

10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. [1Jo 4:10-11 ESV]

So we love because he first loved us(1 John 4:19). I am glad that he loves me even though I have not earned it (nor could I) and it is fitting that we Christians, as his children, should do the same. It’s not only fitting but he commands it. “And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise.’”

 

 

 

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