who was a neighbor?

by Pastor Mark Jordan

“‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” (Luke 10:26-27, NIV)

Today’s passage comes from the end of the interaction Jesus had with the expert in 0F178CB6-17B5-42BE-83B3-79D019C09EE0the Law that prompted the telling of the parable of the Good Samaritan (click here to read the entire passage). The gist of the story is a man was beaten and bloodied by robbers while traveling down a road. Two leaders in the Jewish faith — a priest and a Levite, or temple worship assistant — went out of their way to pass by the man, while a Samaritan went out of his to care for the victim. The Samaritan was the unlikely hero of the story who put aside cultural and geographical differences to help someone in need, and in so doing, became a neighbor in a way that challenged conventional wisdom.

Yesterday we explored the notion of how the expert knew the letter of the Law while missing the spirit of the Law; i.e., love. Jesus’ parable illustrates this point perfectly. Based on the rules, the priest and Levite weren’t necessarily wrong with what they did from a cultural and religious point of view. The beaten man would have been ceremonially unclean, and for the religious figures to interact with him, they, too would have become unclean, preventing them from performing their duties. Yet, the one who came to the man’s aid was already unclean as a result of being a Samaritan. One could even suggest the beaten victim might have been inclined to refuse help from the Samaritan, but he apparently was in no condition to argue. Love overcame, making the stranger a neighbor thanks to the kindness and mercy shown.

There are a couple points to explore here, but for today, I want us to look how a neighbor is called to help someone in need, even if the trouble is brought on him/herself. Ascribing blame in a time of crisis is wrong when someone needs to have wounds bound and tears dried. There will always be time to assess a situation and address problems, but comfort is needed in the midst of calamity. This is what a neighbor does, even in spite of the things that might otherwise divide. When love is at the center of what you do, then everything else shrinks in comparison.

The expert in the Law asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus turned that around after the parable by asking, “Who was a neighbor?” The answer, of course, was the one who was kind and merciful. This extends to someone who might very well have brought the trouble on himself. Still, the command to love God’s and others took priority, so we must go and do likewise. So, who can you be a neighbor to today?

Prayer: Dear Lord, forgive me for the times I allow my judgment to crowd out the command to love you and my neighbor. Help me to love others by showing kindness and mercy, regardless of the circumstances. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.