Who’s My Neighbor? (Part 1)
[The expert of the law] answered: ‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But [Expert] wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor” (Luke 10:27-29–NIV)?
And so goes the familiar story that most know as The Parable of the Good Samaritan.
It all began when an ‘expert of the law’ questioned Jesus, hoping that he might trap him in a contradiction or in what some might call heresy. The man inquired, “Teacher, what must one do to inherit eternal life” (v. 25)?
Jesus–being Jesus–knew where this so-called non-novice was going, and so he answered the question with … a question. Two, in fact.
What is written in the Law? How do you read it (v. 26)?
‘Expert’ wasn’t proficient in the writings of the New Testament. Why? Because it hadn’t yet been written. It was, in truth, being written–even as the two were speaking, in fact. (Luke the physician, as well as the author of the book where this story is found, was apparently, like some neighbors, a skilled eavesdropper.)
This professor of the Law was quoting, rather, the Old Testament scripture found in the scrolls written by yet another author, a man named Moses. Like Luke, Moses, too, was an expert eavesdropper. Having once overheard two men–one an Egyptian slave-master and another, like himself, a Hebrew–he took matters into his own hands. Only one of the two walked away that day, though God, in all His omniscience, somehow worked Moses’ choice to commit murder together for good, though it took many years of humble sheep-herding, all the while neighboring near his father-in-law Jethro, but that’s another story.
God’s words transcribed by Moses to be shared with a wandering Children of Israel are the words ‘Expert’ quoted, at least in part–
Hear, O Israel: The LORD your God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up … (Deut. 6:4-7–NIV).
In essence, Expert is answering his original question–the one about how to inherit eternal life–as well as Jesus’ two questions, with this, and one can almost hear the haughty in his voice as he adds, “Oh, and one more thing.” (Insert clearing of throat.) “Another law of God written by Moses to wayward people, so unlike (ha!) moi–‘Love your neighbor as yourself'” (Lev. 19:18). Imagine Expert looking around at a listening crowd, chest puffed out, smug written all over his face. If one could read the thought bubble hanging over his head, it would have likely boasted in bold font, “Yep! Now that certainly earns me eternal life!”
But not so fast, Bucko! Because Jesus, being who he is, desired to get to the heart of the matter. Thus, with a question-turned-statement and the omission of ‘eternal life,’ Jesus offered the man, prior to God’s kingdom come, His will be done ‘on earth as it is in heaven‘ by saying, not asking–
Do this and you will live (v. 28b).
Oh no–the hard Here-and-Now can be so much more seemingly difficult than Glory-to-Come, and Jesus, in actuality, held Expert accountable for how he was to live on this side of the pearly gates. Maybe the man retorted with a nod of the head and a quick glance around at all those less than him. You can almost hear it. “Humph! Oh yeah? …
And exactly who is my neighbor (v. 29b)?
There. This is just the opportunity Jesus had been waiting for. Perhaps his gentle eyes tipped a bit–not in mockery at a man he didn’t like, nor was he judging his arrogance. No. In truth, Jesus’ eyes tipped, maybe his lips curled, because he loved him–so much so he’d soon die for him, to give him the very thing Expert thought he could earn on his own.
But Jesus wanted more for and from him, and he desires more for and from us too. Yes, our Savior died for more than to merely offer us eternal life, though it’s tough to imagine anything better. His love for Expert, as well as for us–that which carried him to the cross–is a love that desires that we live abundantly each day, as air fills and is exhaled from our lungs, not just after life leaves our bodies and our bones become dust.
Oh my still-beating heart. It feels a tug, because, like Expert, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about exactly who my neighbor is. Maybe it’s because I see so few people face to face. Perhaps it’s because I’ve had, still have, some amazing neighbors.
During this COVID-19 season–with all its debate concerning mask-wearing and social distancing–I’ve wondered, not only about the role of neighbors in my own life but, more importantly, about my role as a neighbor.
Like Expert, I, too, have asked–
Exactly who is my neighbor?
Similarly, I’ve battled pride and arrogance. I’ve squinted to see what’s beyond rather than focus my attention on opportunities right in front of me. I’m pondering questions like–
What makes a ‘good’ neighbor?
Would a good neighbor wear a mask or practice social distancing?
What’s the motive behind being a good neighbor?
Who are some of those good neighbors from my past? My present?
What enables one to be a good neighbor?
More importantly, WHO enables one to be a good neighbor?
So, I’m challenged. Won’t you join me on the journey from Jerusalem to Jericho? Together, let’s read The Parable of the Good Samaritan in its entirety, then read it again. Ponder with me and pray. In the coming weeks, we’ll dig a little deeper into the dirt of that rural road. Perhaps we’ll discover together some hidden truths that apply to today’s COVID quandary, as well as beyond.
Mostly, I’m guessing we’ll uncover a balm that brings healing right here, right now.
Dear Jesus–despite my sin and shame, do your eyes tip delight when you think of me? I believe your promises are true; thus, I know you desire that, one day, I be in Heaven with you. Still, just as much, you call me to LIVE right here, right now–for your glory and the good of others. Beginning today, help me be a good neighbor. Please, Jesus–show me how.