When Jesus announced that the greatest commandment was to love God with everything He also gave us a great commitment to love our neighbors with the love God has given us (Matt 22:37-39). This command leads us to ask a couple of foundational questions: Who are my neighbors? And, How am I to love him? As we explore God’s Word together, we discover that God desires to fill us with His love, so that, we can be a conduit of His love to all others.
There is an encounter with Christ that occurred about six months before His death and resurrection with a lawyer that helps us answer these questions. The account is found in the tenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel. The lawyer wants to know how to inherit eternal life. Jesus answers the question with a question. Basically, Jesus asks, “What do you think?” The lawyer answers correctly by answering, “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” (Lk 10:27). However, a problem arises when the lawyer desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor” (Lk 10:29)?
Although the lawyer knew the Old Testament Law, he had yet to discover that no one can keep this commandment without God’s love in his heart. The lawyer had given a good answer, but he would not apply it personally. The lawyer ought to have answered, “How can I do this? I am unable and need help.” However, he did not admit his own lack of love for both God and others. The result, instead of being justified by submitting to God and seeking His mercy (see: Luke 18:9-14), he tried to justify himself. We find the lawyer embarrassed. He had asked a question he had already known the answer to, so he asks another one. He asks, “Who is my neighbor?”
The Jews in Jesus’ day split hairs over this question by excluding anyone who was not a Jew (i.e., Gentiles and Samaritans) from their neighbor list. The lawyer believed he had presented himself a loophole. This thought of his was a fatal move in the debate. Jesus is about to share a story that will answer the lawyer’s evasive question. Any debater knows the trick of asking, “Define your terms!” “Who exactly is my neighbor?” Jesus’ response is direct and crystal clear.
The story Jesus shares has become known as The Story of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:30-35). Jesus starts the parable out by introducing “a man” (Lk 10:30). Jesus doesn’t give away the identity of the man. We don’t know his tribe, race, social status, or language. We apparently don’t need to know any of that! Jesus left all that information out. Just “a man” that’s all we know. It could have been anybody who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. To be honest, if we begin asking about the man’s background and all of that, we start ruining the whole story. Jesus wants to leave the subject right there. All we know is that this man who was beaten by robbers and left for dead. Jesus fixed it so that all we have to deal with is the man’s suffering. We don’t know how well educated he was or how poor he was. We don’t know what family he came from or what side of town he lived on. Barely breathing, bloody, and near death, the “man” was left to die.
We discover that a Levite and a Rabbi, the religious elite, walk by and offer no help. They simply make excuses and continue on their journey. Then, we discover: “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion” (Lk 10:33). By using a Samaritan as the hero, Jesus disarmed the lawyer. It was Jewish religious professionals, experts of the Law, who had ignored this man. It was a Samaritan who demonstrated love by helping him.
We often look at “neighbors” as people who are much like we are; we have mutual acceptance and respect, affinity. Jesus turns this thought on its ear. He broadens the common understanding of neighbor. He describes love for God as measured by love for others, including those not considered like us or even likable. In short, Jesus answers the lawyer’s question: everyone is our neighbor.
God calls us to love Him and our neighbors (everyone else). As we believe in Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit, then love with our Lord’s love and seek to see people rescued as we have been rescued. Let us encourage one another to this end.