By Brooke Holt
“But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ 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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 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. 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.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise.’” Luke 10:29-37
Who does the Lord command you to love? Really, who is your neighbor? God’s people have asked these questions for thousands of years. Jesus really shook up their understanding of who one’s neighbor was. For the nation of Israel, the assumption was the neighbor was a fellow Israelite. This person would share the same practices of faith and hygiene. They would eat the same foods and live according to the same laws. While the neighbor may disagree on some peripheral issues, neighbors’ fundamental beliefs and practices would be similar, if not the same.
Jesus did not endorse this understanding of loving one’s neighbors. To the religious leaders’ dismay, Jesus did not support much of what the Israelite nation practiced and preached. They focused on knowing the law and keeping the external practices of that law. Jesus taught you could keep all the externals and still not be a child of God.
A lawyer came to Jesus to inquire what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus then turned that question back to him to what had been written. The lawyer gave a great answer: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Great answer, but this guy didn’t really get it. In his pride, the lawyer asked Jesus to define who his neighbor really was. He assumed he could check that box as completed—until Jesus told this well-known but challenging parable of the Good Samaritan.
You know the story. A priest and a Levite (both religious leaders in Israel) see a fellow Israelite who has been beaten and left by the side of the road. Both leaders see the man and yet continue on their way. In contrast, there is the Samaritan man—an enemy of the Jews and the last person expected to help. Yet, it was this supposed enemy who had great compassion, stopped, and helped this Jewish man at his own cost.
Who was the neighbor—the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan man? Once again, the lawyer answered correctly: “The one who showed mercy” (verse 37). Jesus told him and you to go and do likewise. Your neighbor is that person God calls you to love despite your differences of opinions and life choices. They are the one who may be hard to love yet is the very one God is calling you to extend mercy, forgiveness, and grace to today.
Who is that neighbor who is hard for you to love? Ask the Lord to fill your heart with his love and mercy, then extend that love and mercy to them today. We would love for you to share your thoughts in the comments.
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