Who is My Neighbor?
Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 47:5-9 | Deuteronomy 23:1-25:19 | Luke 10:13-37| Proverbs 12:12-14
Today’s Scripture Focus: Luke 10:13-37
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? ”The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise. (Luke 10:36-37 NIV)
What does it mean to follow Jesus? One way Jesus put it was this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and with you’re your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.” These two commands that were the heart of God’s way of life for his people in the Old Testament, are reaffirmed as central to the life of faith for the follower of Jesus.
But what does it mean to “love your neighbor?” Or as Luke’s gospel asks: “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus tells a story that gives an example of true love for neighbor, and includes a bit of “plot twist” that cuts to the heart of the problem in answering the question.
The story he tells is the familiar tale we call the “parable of the Good Samaritan.” A man is robbed, beaten and left on the side of the ride to die. A priest comes near the scene and to avoid getting involved passes by on the other side of the road. Then a Levite comes upon the scene and he too passes by on the other side of the road. Clearly these are two people that are intimately acquainted with the law—two people that knew they were to love their neighbor. Yet they passed by.
Then another man comes upon the scene. He goes out of his way to have mercy and help the man in need. He bandages him up, puts him on his donkey and takes him to the nearest inn to recover. He leaves money with the inn-keeper to pay for the man to stay until he is able to travel home.
Now the plot twist: the hero of the story is a . . . Samaritan! Since we don’t live in the world of Luke’s readers, it is easy for us to miss the startling plot twist of the story. Jews despised Samaritans. Jesus is confronting the prejudice of his day by making the despised Samaritan the hero of the story.
Who is our neighbor? In practical terms, it is the person we meet on the way who is in need. It is the person we meet in everyday life that we might be tempted to pass by because we are busy or afraid. All that is obvious enough from the story.
Jesus plot twist reveals something else about identifying our neighbor. Jesus tells us that the neighbor in the story is the Samaritan. In so doing, Jesus calls us to confront personal and societal prejudice. He calls us to love to those we find it most difficult to love—those easiest for us to stereotype—those easiest for us to despise.
Who is your neighbor? The person in need, yes. But more to the point: the person you find most difficult to love.