Jesus is asked by a Jewish lawyer, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers him with a question “What is written in the law?” The lawyer answers Jesus, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
The lawyer knew the answer already, he just wanted to test Jesus so Jesus responded, “‘You have answered correctly; do this and you will live’” (Luke 10:25-28).
It then says in Scripture that he, the lawyer, wished to justify himself, so he asks Jesus “who is my neighbor?” That question continues to echo down through the ages in the hearts of believers.
Who is my Neighbor?
Jesus answers the lawyer with a parable, perhaps one of the most well known parables in the four gospels. We’ve heard the Good Samaritan parable countless times, it’s almost a part of our DNA here in the west. We know well the narrative of the Samaritan man who stops to help the wounded man who’d been attacked and left for dead on the side of the road, after religious elite had passed him by without offering any assistance. We use the “Good Samaritan” name for hospitals, or for individuals who do good deeds or perform generous acts for others. Many states even have a Good Samaritan law protecting people who offer assistance to anyone who is in a distressing situation.
But, like many things that Jesus preached about, time has washed away some of the radicalism of this parable. The Good Samaritan parable has almost become a story about just doing good deeds, a nice story for a Sunday morning right before brunch. However, the lawyer Jesus was speaking to would have understood full well the challenge that Jesus was issuing by identifying a Samaritan as the neighbor in his parable.
Neighbors Have Differences
The relationship between Jews and Samaritans was a strained one, to say the least. Jewish people (including the lawyer Jesus was speaking to) at that time would go out of their way to not pass through Samaria when traveling from Judea to Galilee in order to not “contaminate” themselves. Similarly, The Samaritan people despised the Jews and were taught not to associate with them. Yet, in His parable, Jesus identifies the Samaritan as “neighbor” — the one that the Jewish lawyer ought to love as himself.
Jesus was obviously being very intentional by using the Samaritan man in his parable; He was trying to challenge the lawyer’s idea and the culture’s definition of “neighbor” — to push him to recognize that his neighbor is the stranger in need of healing, protection, and defense. Jesus used this parable, not just to challenge the lawyer’s idea of neighbor, but to also challenge believers for generations to come.
So who is your neighbor? Chances are, your neighbor, much like the Samaritan is different from the Jew, is pretty different from you. Start with loving the person next door, your actual neighbor. There is a good chance that the people living next to you don’t look like you, think like you, act like you, or share all of your beliefs or values. But Jesus didn’t tell us to love only the people that are just like us. He unapologetically told us: “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Differences Don’t Matter in Love
Imagine if all of us who call ourselves Christian really lived this commandment to love our neighbor, differences and all, as we love ourselves? To actively desire dignity, health, freedom, success and hope for the person on our right and on our left, no matter their race, creed, or religion… What a revolution that would be!
The past several years have brought to the forefront, the racial tension that continues to exist in our nation. Last weekend’s events in Charlottesville highlight just how divided we still are… over 2,000 years after Jesus called us to authentic love of neighbor.
Archbishop Chaput of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia had this to say regarding that division:
“Racism is a poison of the soul. It’s the ugly, original sin of our country, an illness that has never fully healed. Blending it with the Nazi salute, the relic of a regime that murdered millions, compounds the obscenity. Thus the wave of public anger about white nationalist events in Charlottesville this weekend is well warranted. We especially need to pray for those injured in the violence.
But we need more than pious public statements. If our anger today is just another mental virus displaced tomorrow by the next distraction or outrage we find in the media, nothing will change. Charlottesville matters. It’s a snapshot of our public unraveling into real hatreds brutally expressed; a collapse of restraint and mutual respect now taking place across the country. We need to keep the images of Charlottesville alive in our memories. If we want a different kind of country in the future, we need to start today with a conversion in our own hearts, and an insistence on the same in others. That may sound simple. But the history of our nation and its tortured attitudes toward race proves exactly the opposite.”
I’m sure that everyone has their own opinions and thoughts on racism, police violence, the Black Lives Matter movement and so on. However, to those of us who are Christ followers, we have a supernatural call to show mercy, fight for justice, carry a stranger’s burden, to weep with those who weep, to love like the Samaritan man by seeing every person we encounter as “neighbor,” and loving each as we love ourselves. This supernatural call demands that we love like Jesus. That’s a love that costs everything.
A young woman, Heather Heyer, was killed by a white supremacist at Charlottesville. This young woman embodies the spirit of the Samaritan parable. She, a white woman, chose to stand and throw in her lot with people of color who face racism every day. She was there that day to stare evil in the face, to bear the burden of her brothers and sisters, and she gave everything for it.
That is radical love, that is Christlike heroism. Just as the Samaritan man went out of his way to love his neighbor on the side of the road, Heather risked everything to stand beside her neighbors in Charlottesville because her heart was convicted for love and against hate. If we believe what Christ has told us, we’re called to risk everything to love any person that we encounter along the way, because the stranger in need is our neighbor.
I’m not saying this is an easy thing to do. It will be uncomfortable, you will lose friends, alienate family, lose job opportunities, and, like Heather, you may need to give everything. But make no mistake… This is who we are. This is the call. Everything depends on it.
Love y’all… Let’s make a better world.