A Neighbor

The text is from the Gospel of Luke.  It’s part of the travel narrative (Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem) and speaks specifically to those unlike us.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law?  How do you read it?” 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.”  And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”  But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  10:25-29 ESV

If you’re not aware, the account happens in a place called Samaria.  Samaritans and Jews hated each other, and had for years.  With that knowledge, it’s interesting that Jesus would have the conversation about neighbors.  It’s not coincidence!

We want our neighbors to be like us, to act like us, dress like us, talk like us – be us!  And when they’re not like us, we wonder about our neighbors, not to mention they wonder about us as well.

But he, desiring to justify himself…

How often do I want to choose my neighbor?  How often do I want to care for those like me?  How often do I become frustrated with those less like me?  The answer to all three questions is much too often.  Maybe we shouldn’t worry about perception.  We should do the right thing.  One of my favorite authors (Eugene Peterson) writes, “We feel the need for justification only when we sense that we are not quite in the right.”

Jesus answers the question with a  story, a parable.  A man was robbed and left for dead (not uncommon in the land).  What’s interesting is a priest and a Levite pass him without offering aid.  Maybe they don’t have time.  Perhaps there’s a kid playing in a football game.  Maybe it’s a Bible study.  Nevertheless, they don’t stop.  But a Samaritan, a person hated, a “half-breed”, had compassion on him.  The Samaritan treated his wounds, provided shelter, and even offered to take care of the bill at the inn.  Jesus said the one who was kind (the Samaritan) is the true neighbor.

Notice Jesus didn’t become confrontational or chastise the man for the question.  Rather he answers in a way that causes the man to think and answer his own question.  Isn’t that the way we learn the best?  Conviction is long-lived when I look in the mirror and see truth for what it is.  But when someone else approaches me, often times I become defensive.  How wise Jesus was!  We don’t often want our questions to be answered by another question.  But maybe that’s the thing we need.  And it seems to me that Jesus did that well.  Notice Jesus didn’t define neighbor.  He provided a story which the man was allowed to define neighbor himself.

Here’s the deal: Love God.  Love others.  We attempt to love God, but are quick to judge others.  In other words, we don’t love.  For the priest or the Levite in the parable, perhaps they thought the man laying on the side of the road surely brought it on himself.  If he would only have planned better, traveled at a different time of day, yada yada yada.  But they didn’t love.  And to love God, we must love others – even those we don’t want to be our neighbors.  After all, I don’t choose my neighbors.  They’re chosen for me.  And for you as well.

I wonder if the lawyer went away and loved.  Do you?  Will I?

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6 Responses to “A Neighbor”

  1. Sharon Graf Says:

    Oh to be truthful and honest!!! Sometimes very hard to face. God always puts the truth out there and lets us decide. Sometimes we choose to deceive ourselves. My prayer is that God will help me or sometimes make me see the truth in me. I always want to know if I am deceiving myself no matter how hard it is. I love the song and sing it to myself “Open the eyes of my heart I want to know You!!!” Good reality check!

    • Ah yes. In last night’s grief class, we discussed choices at length. Choosing the right things leads to peace. But all too often… don’t think I have to finish.

      Thanks for reading.

  2. I admire and was blessed to have such a loving Grandmother whom I spent a very large part of my childhood with. I would say “oh Grandma I love you” and she would say, “I love all my kids” Although I really didn’t understand why she replied to me with that response, I knew it was a good response. As I grew older I came to understand exactly what she meant. She would not allow me to talk negatively about others, and when I did, she would remind me that they were loved; and who were we to talk negatively about them. Grandma understood that God’s love went way beyond her and she practiced Gods love of others on a daily basis, it was not a question for her. She helped me learn that God doesn’t need our assumptions, our advice, or our attitude towards other people, we do however have a responsibility to be a reflection of his truth and love. Something that I need to remember when I am being stubborn and do not want to choose his way in relationship with those around me. “I may not like someones actions but I NEED to love THEM. I fail at this way too often, but I am blessed to be reminded of Grandma’s example, and reminder of how God loves! To be thankful for the opportunity for me to DECIDE to be more like him with anyone he puts in front of me. Very importantly; the grace to be humble to the words he speaks lovingly through others towards my actions.

  3. “How often do I want to choose my neighbor? How often do I want to care for those like me? How often do I become frustrated with those less like me? The answer to all three questions is much too often. Maybe we shouldn’t worry about perception. We should do the right thing…”

    So my son was recently hurt deeply by a person. Do I choose her as my neighbor? Do I care about her life? But “they” hate us. I want to tell her we hate her too. “… We should do the right thing…” And my soul is troubled. I know that is not the right thing. Peace is precious to me. And even more – God’s forgiveness of my own sins and short comings.

    “And to love God, we must love others – even those we don’t want to be our neighbors. After all, I don’t choose my neighbors. They’re chosen for me.”
    The word “perception” is deep… and I should do the right thing when and if the opportunity comes – to do so.

    Difficult stuff. Thank you for the thoughts – !

    • God is faithful to give us what we need – including our neighbors. I’m reminded of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. I prayed and I prayed and I prayed that God would remove (this thorn/neighbor/struggle) but all I heard was My grace is sufficient. Hmmm.

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