Making Neighbors

Making Neighbors

In Luke 10, Jesus responds to the questioning of a lawyer, who asks two questions. First, he asks “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds to the first question with a question, indicating that the man knows the answer to his own question. When the man presses, Luke gives us his own read of the man’s intentions: “But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”

Jesus responds with one of the most well-known passages of scripture: the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus tells of the three men who encountered the half-dead man—stripped, robbed, and left by the roadside. As we all know, the first two avoid the man, perhaps prioritizing their own ritual cleanness and adherence to purity laws.

The Samaritan has no hope of ritual purity through the Jewish law; he has far less to lose. He acts on his pity, caring for the man himself, and providing for further care beyond what he himself can offer.

At the conclusion of the parable, Jesus asks the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

The thing that gets me about this story is that Jesus didn’t answer the lawyer’s question. The man asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus could have answered that question more simply: anyone in need is your neighbor, the people who live close to you are your neighbors, Samaritans or half-dead-men-on-the-side-of-the-road are your neighbors. But Jesus doesn’t exactly answer that question. He doesn’t show him his neighbor, he shows him how to be neighborly, how to act like a neighbor. Jesus doesn’t tell the man who to love; he tells him how to love. For Jesus, a neighbor is known—indeed, a neighbor is made—by enacting selfless love; any two people can be neighbors, when they are bound together by mercy shared between them.

So, who is your neighbor? Who has shared the grace of selfless love with you, perhaps at a time when you needed it most? With whom is God calling you to be a neighbor? To whom can you show such mercy?

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