Who Is My Neighbor?

As we enter this holiday season beginning with Thanksgiving, our attention naturally goes to our family and friends. We think about celebrations with people we know and love. That’s right and good but we may unintentionally exclude people who cross our paths but just don’t fit the busy agenda… people who nonetheless are in need.

How should we think about these folks? We can’t be responsible for everybody, right? “I need to tend to me and mine.” This is the question posed to Jesus by a lawyer… and expert in the Law of God. “Who is my neighbor?”

Luke 10:25-37

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “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.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 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. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 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. 35 And the next day he took out two denariiand gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

The lawyer asked: “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus countered with a question of his own: “Who was a neighbor?”

We all feel the obligation of family… obligation of social responsibility… obligation to be good for God. How can I define the limits of those obligations? What is the extent of responsibility, so I know when I have done enough? When have I earned the right to tend to me?

Our spirituality is not a matter of externals… performative acts which secure us God’s favor. Our spiritual life should bubble up from within and move outwards… towards others. God doesn’t call us to love the world. He wants us to love our neighbor… people who come across our paths.

The priest in Jesus’ parable likely had important business. He had to lead worship… perform sacrifices… tend to people in need… HIS people. And he had no idea if the man in the road was alive or dead. Contact with a dead body would make him ritually unclean for a period. You might say that he would have to go into quarantine because he had close contact with a COVID case. Talk about something that would mess up the holidays!

The Levite… a person from the priestly tribe of Israel… also had places to go, people to see. Attending to a stranger who may already be beyond his help isn’t his responsibility.

The priest and the Levite both decided that the man on the side of the road was not their neighbor. They were under no obligation.

But the Samaritan… a man of questionable religious background… of “inferior” stock… an outsider from the Jewish people… he didn’t ask if the man in need was his neighbor. He felt the impulse to be a neighbor. He felt the impulse of love which is the heart of God’s law.

The Lord in the person of Jesus Christ came to a world that kept trying to draw the circle closer and closer… moving away from God and neighbor. Instead, He moved towards us. And this Samaritan embodies the law more profoundly than this lawyer.

This Thanksgiving, love your family well. Celebrate and have fun. But don’t forget the love shown you by God… and like him, move towards the people in need who come across your path.

Blessing on you all this Thanksgiving!

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