In Luke 10:25-37, a young lawyer approaches the Lord Jesus Christ and asks how he may inherit eternal life. The Messiah knowing all things asks the young man what the law says is necessary. Interestingly enough, the lawyer responds with the correct answer, namely, one should first love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, and mind. He concludes by remembering that he is also to love his neighbor as himself. Christ acknowledges the answer with the rejoinder that if the lawyer does this then he will live.
Had the story ended there, we might have concluded that the lawyer was well on his way to being a true believer. But the next section reveals the real problem within the heart of the young man. Instead of accepting the words of Jesus, he continues by asking, “But who is my neighbor?” Luke the physician reveals an interesting note under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The lawyer asks this because he seeks to justify himself. In other words, he wants to be able to pick and choose who he accepts as his neighbor.
The Lord then relates one of the most famous parables to reiterate to this young man steeped in the law of Moses what it meant to love your neighbor. In the end, Jesus brings the man to the point where he has to acknowledge that the person who is the true neighbor is the one who is willing to step outside his own comfort zone to reach out to those who are in need. A true neighbor is also the person who is willing to help those who cannot help themselves or even reciprocate.
So, how can we apply this to our own lives? I am glad you asked. Let me see if I can share some of my thoughts about the process of finding out both who are neighbor may be and also what kind of neighbor we are being.
It is easy for many to get misty-eyed when they see the need for clean water in Africa, or the need for better medicine at the orphanages in Central America, or the need for massive food supplies to be delivered to the starving masses in Darfur in western Sudan. There is nothing wrong with this, and is actually quite commendable. Unfortunately, there are some who would see pictures of babies with bloated bellies and would simply turn a blind eye just like the priest and the Levite did to the poor man who had been robbed.
However, in this age where social justice is the buzzword on the lips of many, including pastors and churches, I am afraid that we have relegated our vision to just seeing neighbors as being those who are far away in other lands. In our desire to overcome our own feelings of guilt about having been born in America, we seek to fulfill the commands of Christ to love our neighbor by showering the poor parts of the world with money.
Again, there is nothing wrong with helping those who are much less fortunate than ourselves. The danger comes when we seek to justify ourselves because of what we have given and NOT because of what we must be doing. It is much easier to give money to dig a well than it is to go overseas and dig the well yourself. It is much easier to give “x” amount of money to feed the hungry than it is to fix plates of sandwiches and go help in a homeless shelter. It is also easier to send money than it is to travel abroad and be forced to look into the eyes of hundred of children that you cannot possibly feed and then sit down with your family to enjoy a nice meal simply because you have been blessed with the resources to buy good food.
On another vein of social justice, we can even find ourselves taking up certain causes that anger or provoke us such as abortion or the death penalty or socialized medicine or whatever. We attack those who are not like us or do not agree with us, and we are driven with the idea that we must get everybody else to love their neighbor by holding a sign or railing on the internet or posting videos, etc.
In reality, we have failed to recognize our own failures to keep the law of God and that is to love our neighbor as ourselves. There is no third command to love ourselves. The New Testament assumes that we do this very well.
While these aspects of concern may show that we live like the Good Samaritan and try to help those who are downtrodden, I am afraid that we have often forgotten that the Samaritans were the people right next door to the Jews. They were not on “the other side of the pond.” These were two groups of people who would see each other, sometimes on a weekly or monthly basis just walking up and down the dusty roads of Judea and Samaria.
In my own life, I have found it easier to see my neighbor as the “foreign mission field.” Our family has had the privilege of serving in ministry on three continents, but I wonder how much effort I have spent or how much effort do I spend or even how much effort am I willing to spend in order to show that I desire in my heart to fulfill both of the greatest commandments?
Within my local confines, I have neighbors who are Roman Catholic, or Mormon, or some other cult. I have neighbors who do not go to church and may not recognize the name of Jesus Christ apart from its usage as a curse word. It is quite probable that in my desire to see abortion outlawed that I have overlooked those who may be hurting from past sin within my community. We live in a country that prides itself on the saying that every man’s home is his castle. We step inside after a long day at the office, close the gates, raise the drawbridge, fill the moat with water and alligators, raise the flag on the ramparts, and then retire to our living room or lounge to watch the latest sitcoms. After a great amount of time wasted in frivolous activity, we peek out our windows and dare the world to invade our spaces.
I am convinced that we have failed in recognizing that our neighbors are neighbors not just because they live on either side of our brick and mortar homes. They are neighbors because they are in need of help just as much as those who live in Third World countries. The couple next door may not need food or assistance in paying for their clean water, but if they do not know the Lord, they are in grave danger. They have been systematically robbed by the designs of the evil one. Their homes have been attacked and assaulted by humanistic philosophy and vain traditions of men.
Dear reader, our neighbors are just like the man lying on the side of the road to Jericho. They need to be helped. They do not need, nor do they want, us to look down our noses with the air of religiosity as though we are accomplishing great things for the Lord because we send a small part of our resources overseas. These neighbors need to know that we are about more than helping out at a shelter, or picketing an abortion clinic, or railing on the world in whatever way makes us feel good about ourselves. All we are doing is acting like the young lawyer and trying to justify ourselves.
Our neighbors need us to let down our guard. We must learn to be approachable in a way that we can be ready to give an answer to any who ask of the reason of the hope that is in us, AND to do so in a way that shows a heart and a life that is filled by meekness and fear.
Too often, many who claim to know Christ think that they are fulfilling the Great Commission by sending stuff or by relegating the actual work to the pastor, elders, or missionaries. The truth is that each one of us are called to obey Christ. Every true believer must seek to be a servant to others just as the Good Samaritan did to the Jew who fell on hard times on the road to Jericho.
It is interesting to note that we are never told what the reaction was of the man who was robbed. The reason is not really relevant, because the Samaritan was going to help out whether it was appreciated or not. The man who was robbed might have turned right around after getting better and started belitting those dogs, those heathen, those Samaritans again. The Good Samaritan took it upon himself to help the man, bind his wounds, took him to an inn, paid for his medical care, and even promised to return and pay more money if that is what it took to get the man better. There was no cause nor desire on the part of the Samaritan for reciprocity. We are not even told that the man he helped thanked him for all he had done.
Today, I want to encourage each of you to think about our own lives. If we are doing nothing, then we must seek forgiveness from our Savior for not fulfilling the second of the greatest commandments. Maybe we are doing a little but have forgotten about the neighbor beside us. Again, we must remember that those around us are in far greater need than a meal or clean water. They are dying. Their house is burning down very quickly and soon they will face eternity. We have the words of life that can bring hope and to sit inside our little castles and let others throw out the life preservers is a great sin.
It is time that we stop attempting to justify who we are, who are neighbors may be, and simply learn to love the world around us just as Christ did when He walked this Earth. We all have neighbors, and our ultimate privilege and responsibility is to look beyond our own pettiness and selfish ambitions and see how we can learn and act upon the principles found in the account of the Good Samaritan.
The Savior closed out His teaching session by asking the lawyer who of the three (priest, Levite, or Samaritan) was a true neighbor. The lawyer responded that it was the one who showed mercy. The greatest show of mercy that we can do to others is to reveal to them that Jesus Christ is alive, to reveal to them that He alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and then to reveal to them that our love is genuine for them and we do not desire for them to face the wrath of a thrice-holy God when they pass from this life into the next.