Day 9: May 11, 2018: Which of these proved to be a neighbor?
Luke 10:30-37: Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
The lawyer’s question, “And who is my neighbor?” was really a way of asking “Is there anyone I am not obligated to be a neighbor to?” Jesus perceived this and framed the issue quite directly at the conclusion of the parable: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”
So, the issue is not “who counts as my neighbor?” Rather, it is, “Am I being a loving neighbor?” Love does not discriminate between rich and poor, likable and unlikable, deserving or undeserving (James 2:1-13). This is the sin of favoritism. It is becoming “judges with evil thoughts” (James 2:4). On the contrary, and as the parable of the Good Samaritan shows, love flows to the person who needs to be loved, regardless of their race, gender, social status, or the condition in which we find them when we encounter them. The ironic thrust and twist of the parable is that the Samaritan – just the kind of person whom the lawyer might have been wanting to avoid treating as a neighbor – both understood and lived the commands of God better than the fully Jewish orthodox lawyer himself. The Samaritan was the hero of the story – because he proved to be a neighbor to the beaten man – and Jesus told the lawyer to go out and follow the Samaritan’s example.
The parable of the Good Samaritan thus confronts us with an uncomfortable reality: sometimes we can learn much about godliness from people we would expect to be ungodly. The lawyer would not have expected the Samaritan to be more courageous and generous in love than the priest and the Levite. We who follow Jesus and belong to the church today can become insular and proud. We can become blind to the ways in which we fail to love God and our neighbors. Thus, we would do well to pay attention to people we perceive as “outsiders” – especially to those who, whatever their religion or irreligion, are passionate about issues of justice and fairness. If we look, we will see people who are spending themselves in loving their neighbors, even if they don’t follow Jesus.
Such examples can only serve to convict us of our apathy, and to inspire us to renewed commitment. We must ask ourselves, “are we proving to be neighbors to the people we encounter who need to know God’s love?” “Do we have compassion for those in need, as the Samaritan had for the beaten man?” “Are we willing to give of ourselves to others, even to strangers?” When we hear again the parable of the Good Samaritan, the words of Jesus to us are the same as those he spoke to the lawyer two thousand years ago: “You go, and do likewise.”
Take time now to seek God. This brief prayer can help you get started: “Heavenly Father, you have shown me that I need to be a loving neighbor to each person I meet. Help me to have the compassion, courage, and generosity to love my neighbor as myself. Forgive me for when I am apathetic or indifferent to the needs of others. Help to be like Jesus your Son. In His perfect name I pray, Amen.”