Luke 10:25 ¶ Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Luke 10:26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
Luke 10:27 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.”
Luke 10:28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
Luke 10:29 ¶ But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
The lawyer had come to Jesus to ask him what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus had answered him with another question regarding the law. The lawyer may have found this embarrassing because Jesus’ response was one that made the assumption that the lawyer should have known the answer — for he knew the law! Trying to justify himself and sound as if he knew what he was talking about, he decided to test Jesus for the definition of neighbor. For Jews their neighbors were fellow Jews. The lawyer was trying to get this answer from Jesus so that he could let Jesus know that he had followed this law perfectly!
More than likely Jesus’ response stunned the man. Here’s a new definition of neighbor brought in the form of a parable, for Jesus’ response is the story of the good Samaritan. The thought of a Samaritan being the good neighbor in this case would have been quite repulsive to the lawyer. He had wanted to split hairs with Jesus, walking the fine line of a definition to make himself sound good before the Savior. It didn’t work!
We may discover that we are also trying to justify just who our neighbor is supposed to be. It’s easy to be nice to those who are nice to us, to those who are like us and do things the way that we do them. But Jesus was saying that anyone in close proximity to us is our neighbor and other than that, we don’t get to pick the definition. We are not just supposed to be nice to them, we are to love them as God loves us. God loved us enough that he sent his own son to die for us in an effort to bring us back into a relationship with him.
Think about how we treat those who are close to us — where we live. Do we know who our neighbors are or do we simply push our garage door opener button and slide inside without ever needing to talk to anyone? Do we know who those people are that work at our local store? Do we talk to them or simply ignore them?
Many of us gather on a regular basis at church. Our neighbors are also those who attend church with us and we are to reach out to them. Unfortunately when new people come they often find it difficult to break into the family that has already built close-knit relationships. It’s hard to feel like you can really become a “neighbor” if you are not intentionally invited in to be a part of the community.
Our neighbors include those with whom we rub shoulders that may make us uncomfortable. Sadly there seems to be a growing divide in the world of those whom we perceive are like us and those who are not. For much of Christianity there is a great fear of Islam. Jesus praising the Samaritan as the “good-guy” in the story is the equivalent of the Muslim being the “good-guy” for us in the story today. That would make many “Christians” uncomfortable. Just as the Jews had made the Samaritans the bad guys in their world, sadly Christians are making Muslims the bad guys today. Instead, what would happen if we responded the way in which Jesus responded to the Samaritans. Jesus went right in the midst of them, sat down and talked to a woman who desperately needed salvation. He never avoided them, but reached out and loved them, bringing transformation to their lives.
I’m afraid that we are creating barriers just as much as the lawyer. We want to split hairs and create our own definition of “neighbor.” Christians — we cannot create, what we see as our own “safe” definitions and boundaries. We are to love our neighbor — no matter who they are or what they believe. Some of them may be putting us to shame by their response to those in need. The religious officials walked past the man who had been attacked. Only the Samaritan took the time to pick him up and care for him.
Splitting hairs may make us feel better for a short period of time, but it is our day-to-day response to a world in need that will demonstrate whether we truly love God and neighbor.
Lord, please, help me to love all those you place as my neighbors. Amen.