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.
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Oh, yes Maureen, what a time this is to pray more, seek and wait to hear the voice of the Lord! During the earlier months when life was busy, social, and an “out and about ” time we called “normal,” we had so many opportunities to “do”… lunch with a friend we called part ministry, a smile at a stranger, making a meal for a church potluck , sending a get well card to cheer someone. All good, but so often done without much intentional thought or prayer. Now, though, as so many of us have been housebound most of the time, we find the doing of good to a neighbor a quandry…who is my neighbor, what do I have in my hand to offer, how can I care and share? It is easy to feel bound by limitations. Yet the Lord’s commission to us remains the same..love, serve…and the time now is even more urgent in many ways. So we are forced, if we are honest, to cast our ?s upon the Lord and let him show us more of Himself, more of His will, and to show us more of ourselves. Our prejudices, excuses, laziness, self-indulgences, warped priorities. Certainly He will open the eyes of our hearts to new practical ways we can serve now, but also change us so that when/if things become more normal again we may be different people, refined by the Lord in the fires of restrictions and afflictions. To feel and respond to the pain of the homeless, the disabled, the addicted, the imprisoned, and the abused and abandoned through new eyes…the eyes of the Lord’s great love and mercy and grace. And to see those with whom we disagree politically or doctrinally as people for whom Jesus died. And no matter who is right or wrong, to serve them with less debate and more faithful prayer. They are my neighbors also. And I am reminded in new and humbling ways that everything I am and have has come from Him. Love you (and the beautiful pictures too).
Thank you, dear mama! Your words are so, so true. Thank you for being a “good neighbor”–both figuratively and literally. (Daddy too!) Love you both! Thank you for instilling me a sensitivity toward and a watchful “eye” for others. I am eternally grateful, as such has added so much blessing to my days here on earth.
Thank you for this beautiful post, Maureen. If only more of us truly could live like neighbors! Just today, someone on our road whom we’ve never met stopped Mike and asked him if we wanted a tree from their yard. Turns out she has to dig it out because a neighbor protested it’s on the boundary line between the two homes. So sad to see strife between neighbors, and sadder still that our country is so divided. Thank you for speaking words of peace.
Thank you for sharing and for your ALWAYS encouraging words, dear friend. We all have much to learn from our Sweet Savior. Love to you!
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