And Who is My Neighbor?

The Parable of the Good Neighbor
Luke 10:25-29  (NIV)

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He 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.’” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jan Wijnants - Parable of the Good Neighbor.jpgI have always believed the message Jesus was trying to get across is that everyone is our neighbor, not just those with whom we live beside, look like and agree with. Unfortunately not everyone seems to agree with me. A 2016 poll by Public Religion Research Institute shows that 53 percent of white evangelical Protestants believe immigrants weaken America. The current attitude against immigrants and others considered to be outsiders is troubling. According to Christianity Today Bible the Bible influences Only 1 in 10 Evangelicals on Immigration Reform. The parable of the good Samaritan is even more relevant today.

And who is my neighbor?

The story starts with a man robbed, beaten and left for dead by the side of the road. A priest and a Levite didn’t just pass the man by but crossed over to the other side of the road. Making it clear these men, leaders in the Jewish community, were consciously avoiding the injured man.

Jesus does not reveal the victims nationality but He does identify the good neighbor as a Samaritan. Jews, especially the Levites, considered the Samaritans religious mongrels. Most Jewish people of the time didn’t believe Samaritans were worthy of God’s love. In essence Jesus was saying, “Those you consider less than you are in fact better than you”.

He said this much more plainly in Mark 9:35; “Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all’.” (NIV)

I don’t think the point was lost on the expert in the law (probably a Levite). When Jesus asked, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” the lawyer replied simply, “The one who had mercy on him”.  I don’t know about you but I can hear the humility in his voice.

Pride goeth before destruction

This is not the only time Jesus turned the tables on his accusers and those who would deny him. In Luke 7:36-43 Jesus went to dine at the house of a Pharisee. A local woman considered a sinner by the town heard Jesus was there. So she came and anointed His feet with oil and her tears. The Pharisee was outraged, not only by the woman but by Jesus’s apparent acceptance of the situation. Jesus then told the Pharisee the parable of two debtors and asked the simple question, “Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”.

The Pharisee answered correctly, “I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most“.

We have many weaknesses as humans but one of our biggest is pride. Matthew 20:16 confuses many of us; “So the last shall be first, and the first last:”. We like winners. Coming in first is something we learned in childhood. Whether it is to find the most Easter Eggs, be the best at the Spelling Bee, score the most points in a basketball game; there is always a competition to win. Second place is just the first loser.

As adults it gets worse. We compete both at work and in our personal lives. Always trying to have the best car, the best house, the best yard, consumes many of us. Getting a promotion is not a reward but a goal for many people. And some are willing to do ‘whatever it takes’ for that promotion.

Our pride blinds us. And not just pride in ourselves but anytime we put our job, church, political party, country or anything else ahead of God and His Children. Anytime we believe our group is better than any other we need to remember Christ used a Samaritan, prostitute and debtor as examples.

The Samaritan woman at the well.

Before He told the story of the Good Samaritan Jesus talked to the woman at the well. Not only talked to her but drank water from her cup, breaking Jewish law and custom. It seems Jesus had more patience with sinners than with the proud. The Lawyer who asked “who is my neighbor” knew the law but was only concerned about how it affected him. The Pharisee who was outraged by the mere presence of a prostitute was thinking about how that reflected on him.  Jesus used truth like a pin to bust their bubbles of pride.

The Chief Priests, Pharisees and Lawyers were the target of much of Jesus’s condemnation. The same people who had the most knowledge of God, God used their knowledge to point out their error. Occasionally Jesus would respond with anger. The most famous example is when he threw the money changers out of the Temple. (John 2:14-17 NIV) But most of the time He responded with love and truth. And so should we.