February 8: Neighbors

Read Luke 10:25-37

As familiar as I am with the story of the Good Samaritan, I don’t know that I really ever noticed this one detail, or at least took the time to think about it, until today. The expert in the Old Testament law posed a question. Jesus responded to that question with a story. At the end of the story Jesus posed a question back to the man. Now here is the point that I have never taken time to consider: the two questions sound nearly the same, but they are vastly different.

The expert asked, “Who is my neighbor?” You see, the man understood, and even expressed, the importance of the Old Testament command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” It is a valid question to ask, but it seems that the expert probably already had his own answer. As he sought “to justify himself” (v. 29), he had already drawn his own conclusions. He was looking for affirmation from Jesus if His answer was the same, or he was ready to engage Jesus in debate if His qualification list differed. He had already in his mind defined the profile of neighbors worthy of love. And those known for their sin or those who might tarnish his ceremonial “cleanness” just weren’t on the list. They were to be avoided . . . the way that two of the characters in the story gave a wide berth to the injured traveler.

“The Good Samaritan” by Aimé Morot (1880) shows the Good Samaritan taking the injured man to the inn.

But Jesus closed the story with a different question. “Which one was a neighbor?” Rather than focusing on who qualifies for our help, He is interested in knowing who is willing to offer it. You see, we really aren’t given much information about the beaten man. Was he a Jew? Did he have a reputation for sin? What if he was a tax collector! Jesus doesn’t give us that kind of information.

And while priests, Levites, and experts in the law may have established qualification lists and conditions for demonstrating love to others, Jesus doesn’t even go there. Instead, He seems to point out that this man deserved neighborly love independent of his background. Loving your neighbor is simply a response to the need of people you find along your path. Who is willing to help?

As you look for opportunities today to share Jesus, try to listen to the desperate, felt needs of the person you engage in conversation. Is there any help you can offer?

sbk

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