WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?
By Brian Johnson, Associate Pastor,
Neighborhood Impact, Westside Family Church, Lenexa, Kansas
Lord, thank you for the life-changing power of your Word. Help me to obey your Word, so that my ways may please you and lead others to you.
A teacher of the Law came up and tried to trap Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to receive eternal life?”
Jesus answered him, “What do the Scriptures say? How do you interpret them?”
The man answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’”
“You are right,” Jesus replied; “do this and you will live.”
But the teacher of the Law wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
Whenever I read this passage, I can easily put my own voice in place of that of the expert in the law. It’s all too familiar. Like many of us, this was a man who had spent his life diligently working to be perfect in every area. He was, at every turn, attempting to prove his righteousness based on his knowledge and understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Then one day he had an encounter with Jesus, and Jesus encounters rarely leave a person unchanged. It’s likely he knew the stories about Jesus that were circulating. Perhaps he was a bit jealous of the amount of attention Jesus was getting from the people. In the following conversation, the expert in the law wanted to justify his actions. I’ve often wondered if that should really say, his inaction.
In response to the man’s question, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan and exposes the man’s heart. Rather than walking away justified, confident that he had fulfilled the invitation to love his neighbor as himself, the man faced a different reality. Jesus revealed that he did not love his neighbor as the Scriptures required. Instead of seeing every individual the way Jesus did, as the Beloved, the expert in the law most likely wanted to choose whom he would or wouldn’t love. He probably preferred the easy route, “I love people who look and think exactly as I do.” When your definition of neighbor is narrowed down to a mirror image of yourself, it’s not difficult to follow through on loving them.
What we can clearly see from the passage is that the man’s motivations were skewed. He was more focused on himself than on other people. Unlike the Samaritan, he was not making use of opportunities to show love to his neighbor.
Jesus reshapes the man’s thinking as well as ours. To do what God desires, we cannot choose whom we love or don’t love. Jesus puts the world in view and says, “Your neighbor is anyone in your path.”
In our family we emphasize an expanding image of our spheres of influence. When we talk about loving our neighbors, we talk a lot about those who live next door. They are in our lives more than anyone else. Then we move outward to the people with whom we spend the next most time, those with whom we work or study. Finally, we talk about those we hang out with in our community.
We’ve asked Jesus to help us first see and then love well our neighbors where we live, work, study and play. Now we are also challenged to move even further and make use of opportunities to show love to anyone who crosses our path. I invite you to do likewise.
Jesus, open my eyes first to see people in my family, neighborhood, workplace or classroom. Then help me to love them the way you do.