Who Is My Neighbor?
Pastor Vernon Giesbrecht
No doubt, you will recall the parable of the Good Samaritan, recorded for us in Luke 10:25-37. I won’t include the entire text here, but will highlight some of the verses. I would, however, encourage you to read the entire passage. As always, it is important to consider the context of a Scriptural portion; this is especially important with this parable Jesus told.
One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
With all his training, this expert in religious law still seemed to be struggling with the assurance of gaining eternal life. Or, as the text says, he was attempting to back Jesus into a corner, which is never a good idea. As was Jesus’ practice, he often would respond to a person’s question with a another question. But this really smart lawyer still was not satisfied with the interaction, so he quickly and confidently asked another question: “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus then tells a story, the parable, with which we all are familiar. A Jewish man was travelling the extremely dangerous road from Jerusalem down to Jericho when he was attached by bandits and left for dead. A Jewish Priest happened by and, seeing the man lying by the road, crossed over to the other side and continued on his way. A Temple Assistant, a Levite, did the same.
“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him.” The Jews hated the Samaritans; over the centuries, they had intermarried with pagans, adopted distorted religious practices, and apparently had conducted raids on the Jewish population. Jews, especially religious leaders, would bypass Samaria on their way to Galilee for fear of being defiled. This Samaritan, in contrast to the Jewish religious leaders, stopped and tended to the man’s wounds, took him to an inn where he cared for him. The next day, he gave the innkeeper funds to continue the man’s care with the promise of reimbursement if the “medical bill” was higher.
“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” You can almost sense the lawyer grit his teeth and walk away.
What are some of the lessons to remember from this passage? The first lesson is obvious: Treat everyone with respect, compassion and love – as you would want to be treated – even when it’s difficult. With today’s increased racial tensions, this lesson is critical. What about those in our acquaintance who are struggling with emotional issues, financial distress, illness, or addiction? This is especially applicable during this pandemic. Or, what about someone whose beliefs are different than your yours? “Will compassion triumph over convenience? Pity over prejudice? Tender understanding over the tyranny of the urgent?” (David O. Filson) A better question than “Who is my neighbor?” would be: “Are you a neighbor? Whose neighbor can I be today?”
The second lesson is drawn from the lawyer’s very first question. An inheritance can never be earned; it is by definition a gift. Eternal life cannot be earned, it is granted only by God’s mercy and grace. Jesus knew the lawyer could never fulfill God’s law perfectly. And, neither can we. The religious expert was correct in summarizing the entire law to love God and neighbor. And Jesus of course, is right – eternal life depends on completion of the law. So, Jesus pinpointed exactly how, in practical terms, the lawyer was deficient. No one can love like God. We all fall short of God’s standard in our thoughts and actions.
A third lesson is seen in the parable’s answer to our hopeless situation. Jesus, like the Samaritan, was despised yet became our neighbor – we were bruised and bloodied with sin. He demonstrated ultimate compassion and love by becoming flesh, by being bruised and bloodied himself for our transgressions, by forgiving our sin and offering us eternal life. When we repent of our brokenness and rebellion, and place our faith in Christ, we receive the gift of eternal life. We become part of God’s family.
Now, we become neighbors to the needy, not to earn eternal life, but to evidence that we have eternal life; not to merit our salvation, but to demonstrate that we have been saved by the compassionate grace of Christ.