Sadly, we are still asking this question today. We are asking because we want to know to whom do we owe love, or to whom should we show concern or compassion? Sadder still, we can always rationalize or find a way to compartmentalize those we love.
Jesus, knowing man’s propensity for squirreling out of our obligations, tells a familiar parable, we know as The Good Samaritan. In this parable, a man gets beaten by thieves and left for dead. A priest sees the man lying on the sidewalk and crosses over to the other side. A Levite, the ones who had roles in the temple, saw the wounded man, and crossed over to the other side. Then, a Samaritan, who were despised by the Jews as they were seen as half-breeds, saw the wounded man, and had compassion on him and took care of him. Jesus ends the parable with a question.
Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?Luke 10:36 ESV
The lawyer, who initiated this conversation with Jesus responded: “The one who showed him mercy.” The Samaritan proved to be a good neighbor because he showed mercy. Jesus told him to do likewise.
This whole scene all began with the lawyer trying to test Jesus by asking what he needed to do to have eternal life. Jesus, knowing the true issue, asked him what the law says? The lawyer rightly responded:
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.Luke 10:27 ESV
In the parable, the priest and the Levite avoided the man, failed to see the man as a neighbor, as they showed no concern or compassion, but the one not connected with religious office and duty, sees the need of a neighbor and shows compassion by not only nursing his wounds, but also putting him up to stay in an inn.
Who is my neighbor? Who am I obligated to love? To show compassion? Jesus is known to raise the standard. In the Sermon on the Mount, he tells the crowd not only are they to love their neighbors, but also to love their enemies. Love was a calling card, so to speak, of being a child of God. He emphasizes this by saying:
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?Matthew 5:46-47 ESV
Jesus is saying how are we any different than the world or sinners when we love those who love us. What is the difference that we are offering as believers? Are we not the salt of the earth, and the light of the world?
Recently, as a judge was about to pronounce sentencing in a case, he provided his personal thoughts before rendering sentences on the three convicted men. Judge Timothy Walmsley, as he considered the case, suggested that perhaps we need to expand “our definition of what a neighbor may be and how we treat them.” He further states:
I argue that maybe a neighbor is more than just the people who own property around your house. I also believe that assuming the worst in others, we show our worst character. Assuming the best in others is always the best course of action.Judge Timothy Walmsley
I don’t know whether Judge Walmsley is a Christian, but he certainly seemed to capture the spirit of 1 Corinthians 13.
Today’s climate is more polarized and divisive as I have ever known it to be. The divisiveness has penetrated the church, dividing believers over things that really shouldn’t matter when we consider our calling.
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”Galatians 5:13-14 ESV
Jesus prayed that we might be one, just as he and the Father are one. Being one points the world to the Christ who saves.
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.John 13:35 ESV
Who is my neighbor? My neighbor is you, and I am yours, and so are all, for we are all created in the image of God.