Who Is Your Neighbor?

Check out my sermon @ Oceanside Christian Fellowship August 8th on this parable.

Who is your neighbor? Is it the person next door? Is it the person you like? Is it people like you? That look like you? Think like you? Act like you? Jesus was asked this same question 2000 years ago, and the conversation is recorded in Luke 10:25-37. I think this conversation is not only important for us today, but sounds like a conversation we are still having 2000 years later.

2021 has been a brutal year for most people in the world, and we have been hit with tragedies and many inconveniences. In spite of getting Covid last year and other inconveniences, one of the worse consequences of the year is the brutal, polarizing, hate-filled politicking I’ve seen within the household of God. The division and hate outside of the church is a normal consequence of a self-centered universe, but is nothing short of pathetic for a people group that follow a savior that exhorts us to love our enemy! I have witnessed so much vitriol, division and mean-spirited social media posts from brothers and sisters that claim Christ as their Lord and Savior. The division has come from such innane arguments as to wear a mask or not wear a mask, but the more insidious ones refer to an ostensible hatred for people that aren’t like us. There is no doubt that nations need to create their borders and their border rules, but as believers, we are called to something different in how we respond to people in need.

In the Parable that Jesus tells in relation to the Jewish law expert’s question, “who is my neighbor,’ (Luke 10:29), he flips the script on the religious leader by showing him that our neighbor is anyone in need, not just those that love us. The questioning begins in verse 25, when the lawyer first asks Jesus, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ The context shows that the lawyer is asking this, not for an answer, but to put Jesus to the ‘test.’ I do not believe that the lawyer is asking ‘what do I need to do to be saved,’ as much as he is asking, ‘what must I do to be part of your Kingdom,’ and is similar to James and John’s mother asking Jesus, “these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21). Jews weren’t looking to ‘get saved,’ but they did want a place in the future age that God would rule and Israel would be made ‘great again!’ Jesus Himself gives us a clear image of what ‘eternal life’ means in John 17:3 when He says,

this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

As Jesus often does, He challenges the lawyers thinking by asking him questions about the law, which he answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your strength, and with all of your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” His answer was correct, as he quoted from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19. Jesus then challenges him by saying, great! “Now do this and you will live” (Luke 10:28). But the Jewish leader was stuck, because his perspective of a neighbor was the common one taught within Jewish circles, which was to help only those that were like you. Jewish leader Ben Sira writing a couple hundred years before Jesus, wrote this about helping only those ‘good’ people: “If you do good, know for whom you are doing it, and your kindness will have its effect. Do good to the righteous and reward will be yours, if not from them, from the LORD. No good comes to those who give comfort to the wicked, nor is it an act of mercy that they do. Give to the good but refuse the sinner.

Jesus goes on to tell a story about a Jewish man who was beaten up and left for dead, and while two Jewish priests passed him by, a hated Samaritan man felt ‘compassion,’ and helped this man, by bringing him to a proper shelter and paying for anything he needed to get well. Now Jesus could have made a similar point by making the hero of the story a Jew, but He chose a Samaritan, who the Jews hated and had no dealing with (See John 4:9). As a matter of fact, just a chapter earlier, a Samaritan village rejected Jesus (Luke 9:51-56). Jesus chose the Samaritan to make the point that in the Kingdom of God, any person in need is your neighbor, not just those that look like you, act like you and think like you!

Jesus ends by asking the lawyer who is the neighbor? The Jewish leader couldn’t even say the Samaritan, but her referred to him as, “The one who showed him mercy” (Luke 10:37). Interesting use of the word mercy, which has the idea of not getting what is due, such as judgment. Instead of judgment against the Jewish man who had been beaten, the Samaritan showed him love and compassion. This is exactly what Jesus did for us! In spite of us being an enemy of God, and in rebellion to His commands, He showed His love and compassion by dying for us (See Romans 8:9-10). And then Jesus says to the man, “You go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

To this theologian NT Wright says,

What is at stake then and now, is the question of whether we will use the God given revelation of love and grace as a way of boosting our own sense of isolated security and purity, or whether we will see it as a call and challenge to extend that love and grace to the whole world.”

True Orthodoxy (Right Thinking/Theology) should always lead to Orthopraxy (Right Practice). There are many things that Jesus teaches, and due to a weird cognitive dissonance, we tend to ignore them. We are clearly taught that ALL of humanity is created in the image of God and that we are called to serve humanity, no matter what they do to us, but we seem to consistently look like the world when it comes to the treatment of those we do not like.

We, more than anyone have the blueprint and the exhortation to serve and love those that hate us (Read and Meditate on Romans 12:9-21), but we often fail to do what God asks of us.

Eternal life begins now, and we are being transformed from our self-centered default mechanism, to a God-glorifying Ambassadorial of love to this hurting world. The world needs what Jesus came to give, which is far more than ‘getting saved,’ and an incredible joy when it is truly grasped!

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