Who Is My Neighbor?

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 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.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii,* gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

In this story from Luke, a religious leader expresses concern for his personal salvation. He wants to know what he has to do to gain eternal life. Luke lets us know that this isn’t an honest question, but that he is testing Jesus. Jesus tells a story and then answers the question “Who is my neighbor?”with a question.  Jesus doesn’t answer the question of who qualifies as a neighbor, but says that the more important question is “Who acted as the neighbor?” The neighbor is not defined by distance, but by need.

I have preached many sermons speculating why the priest and the Levite crossed to the other side of the street. Maybe they thought someone else would care for the injured man, maybe they were busy, maybe they were concerned about the purity laws. I think Jesus doesn’t tell us because the reason doesn’t matter. The more important question is “Why did the Samaritan stop to help?” Jesus tells us that the Samaritan “was moved with pity.” The Samaritan was able to empathize with the pain of the injured man.

I am not sure what answer the religious leader was expecting to hear – perhaps a definition of sin that could be twisted and torn apart. Certainly, he was expecting Jesus to make some attempt at defining boundaries that would not be hard to challenge. A caring heart, however, cannot be confined to a zip code. We called to care for any who have been harmed. Each person we meet has been harmed in some way. We have been harmed by others who treated us as if we were interchangeable parts. We have been harmed by corporations who pollute our world with unmitigated greed. I believe that to love our neighbor means more than caring for the wounded. I believe that loving our neighbor means that each of us is called to remember our baptismal vow to reject all that is evil, repent of sin, “and accept the freedom and power God gives [us] to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” We are called, not just to care for the wounded neighbor, but to resist whatever wounded them. It is quite a challenge to consider all who are being oppressed and to dismantle the structures that support oppression. Following Jesus is not easy or comfortable. It is a lifelong challenge of noticing who has been harmed and how and why. 

The early church knew nothing about personal faith. Those who followed Jesus did so as part of a faith community. The love of neighbor was something they did together. That’s why we put so much emphasis at Weston United Methodist Church on mission. We love not only with our hearts, but with our hands and our feet and with all that we have and all that we are. Compassion, not enforcement of rules, is our reason for action.



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