"Jesus, You said to love my neighbor as myself. Who is my neighbor?"
Jesus always sees the heart beneath this question. There are people that we don’t want the responsibility of loving, especially like we love ourselves. That would mean wanting for them what we want for us. In some cases, this nauseates us.
The man who asked this question in the Bible, likely wanted to narrow this thing down so that he could still despise the people he despised. The Bible says he asked the question wanting to justify himself. So Jesus tells a story in response to his question. It’s a story that reveals the motives of his heart and also of ours. We’ve come to know this story as "The Good Samaritan".
In this story, a man is robbed and left for dead. We don’t know what kind of man this was.
We don’t know his ethnicity.
We don’t know his sexual orientation.
We don’t know if he was a thief or a murderer.
We don’t know why he was robbed or by who.
All Jesus said was that there was a man that He’d created lying in need on the street.
Jesus then adds to His story some “Christians”. These were “leaders of the faith”. They knew the truth backwards and forwards and upside down. They could quote Scripture to you all day long. They could point out heresy and doctrinal error. They could define long, complicated theological terms. They could tell you exactly what God stands for and all about His wrath for the disobedient.
But they’d missed the most important thing.
Surely He loves to no end the people He created. Surely He wants to teach us that it’s this kind of love that has saved us from our own wickedness.
So in His story, it’s the “spiritual elite” that go out of their way to avoid the man lying in the street. They avoid him in the Name of God.
It’s likely his own fault.
He deserved it.
It’s God’s wrath on him.
All is lost for this man until a Samaritan passes by. The Samaritans didn’t have special knowledge of God. They were outcasts...hated by the Jews. And for all we know the man lying in the street could have been a Jew.
But the Samaritan stops for the man. He doesn’t quiz him about all his sins. He doesn’t quote a bunch of Bible verses at him. He doesn’t whisper “I’ll pray for you” and move on with his life.
Nope. He does everything he can to meet his needs. In his compassion, he gently cleanses his wounds and bandages them. But he even goes a step further and takes him to a place that can take care of him while he recovers. He pays the bill for the man’s recovery.
After the story, Jesus asks the man a simple question, “Which of these men do you think proved to be the neighbor of the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks to the end of the age when the nations will be gathered around His throne. It is there that He says He will separate the sheep from the goats. While we like to think that the people with the most solid Biblical knowledge will be the sheep, Jesus defined sheep differently here.
“Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me.”
And those who are the sheep will ask “When did we do all of this for You?” He will answer, “When you did it for your neighbor.”
And my heart breaks (I have literal tears) when I think how many “Biblical elite” will be in the crowd to which He says:
“Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger and you didn’t take Me in; I was naked and you didn’t clothe Me; I was sick and in prison and you didn’t take care of Me.”
Jaws will drop in shock as they ask Him, “when did we ever refuse you these things?” Jesus says “When you don’t do them for your neighbor, it’s like you aren’t doing them for Me.”
“Who is my neighbor, Jesus?” is the wrong question.
“Which of these three was a neighbor to the man who fell victim to robbers?”
The question is “How am I being a neighbor to anyone who happens to be in my path right now?”
The Samaritan was nothing special, but yet Jesus tells us to go and do exactly what he did. Exactly what he did, y’all.
When people are hurting, when they are lying in the street half dead, when they’ve been through so much trauma they can’t even see straight, when they are poor and lost and bitter, a sermon isn’t going to point them to Jesus. Give them a taste of His love, and they will come back for more.
The more we love God, the less time we will take to even ask “Who is my neighbor?”