One day a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?” The scholar asked his questions, not to gain understanding but to impress and perhaps gain the inheritance of eternal life. Since it was implied that you had to do something to earn salvation, Jesus could have simply replied…nothing, Salvation is no cost to you…However, Jesus returns the challenge to the lawyer with another question, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”
The Scholar replied, “That you love the Lord your God with all your soul, your heart, and with all your mind—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.” Good answer, Jesus replied, “Do it and you’ll live.”
The scholar is not satisfied, he has yet another question, “Who is my neighbor?” Who is my neighbor is a fair question for a good Jewish scholar to ask. Jews, believing that the Law came directly from the mouth of God, paid careful attention to each word. The Law does not say “love everyone.” Rather, it says “love your neighbor.” According to the rabbis, there were three ways that “neighbor” could be understood: someone who lives next to you, a blood relation, a close friend, or a member of your clan. The scholar wants to know who he MUST love, he wants to define boundaries to help him know who he is NOT required to love. If he can determine who is his neighbor, he will also know who is not his neighbor.
Again, Jesus could have answered, listen up you, “Everyone is your neighbor.” Instead, Jesus tells a story. I do not know about the religious scholar, but I hate having my questions answered with a story. Usually, the storyteller wants me to find myself in the story and there is always a moral to the story which I most likely will not like. Nevertheless, Jesus tells his story. He wants to shift the religious scholar’s focus from himself to the other.
Jesus starts off saying, “Once there was a certain man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho who was robbed. Jesus tells little about the traveler who becomes a victim of robbers, this keeps the scholar from labeling the man. Jesus knows that once we start to put labels on folks… We are inclined to sort needy people into deserving and undeserving categories, which allows us to excuse ourselves from helping those who we see as not deserving. The man in Jesus’ story was robbed, lost his clothes, was beaten and left half dead. The man needed a good neighbor not to be labeled.
While the man was laying half-dead, both a priest and a deeply religious person passed by, they both angled across to the other side of the street in order to avoid the injured man.
Then there was this Samaritan, traveling the same road. When The Samaritan saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He took good care of him, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds, then led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I will pay you on my way back.’
Jesus asked, “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?” “The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded. Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”
During these conflicting and challenging times, Jesus is asking us to shift our focus from ourselves to become good neighbors. The man robbed in Jesus’ story did not get to choose his neighbor and sometimes neither do we. Sometimes our neighbor is the one we least expect to be a neighbor. Sometimes our neighbor is the other.
Jesus’ question to the religious scholar and perhaps to us as well, ask us to shift our focus from, “who is my neighbor? To what a righteous neighbor does….
I am wondering, “are you a good neighbor?