There was once a lawyer who was looking for a loophole. He asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life, but he already knew the answer: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” “Right, Jesus simply replied. “…Do this, and you will live.”
“But who is my neighbor?” the lawyer dodged. So, Jesus told him a story. It’s the story of the Good Samaritan, in the book of Luke. Three travelers encountered a man who had been stripped, beaten, and left for dead. The first two were religious men—a priest and a temple assistant, but they crossed the road and passed on by. Only the third man stopped. A man of mixed race that was despised by the religious Jews, bound the wounds and took him to a place of care, all at his expense.
The truth is, we’d all probably like to wiggle out of that uncomfortable command. To neighbor well, we have to be willing to have our journeys, our schedules, our plans interrupted. If our neighbors aren’t just like us, neighboring could be unpleasant, messy, even dangerous. We won’t do it unless we have a sense of who we truly are in the story of the Good Samaritan. Without Christ, “we were dead because of our sins,” Ephesians 2:5 says. To neighbor well, we have to see ourselves as the left for dead man, in our sins.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 22:36-39
Consider the words of Pastor Jay Sias in his poem prayer, How to Neighbor:
If you want to know how to neighbor,
you must first know who your neighbor is.
But before you can even begin the neighborly process of neighboring them
you must first comprehend the neighborhood of your own skin.
See we were the worst of neighbors,
waging cul-de-sac wars with our transgressions.
Furnishing our habitats with our inhabiting sins.
We were residing in hate, as if bricks of enmity formed our residences.
Walling ourselves off, as if selfish deeds were our addresses
We were disgruntled neighbors of the Almighty.
We were drowning in the mortgage of our fleshly homes,
knowing no wages we could ever earn could pay off our wager.
But now we can actually love another.
Because God himself showed us how to neighbor
We adopt the orphans
because we were first without a family.
We were cut off from our true Father.
We love the lonely
because He who is LOVE became loneliness for us
And because HE who is God was forsaken by God
When he cried out on the cross.
We reconcile the races,
Because we were of the wrong race;
We were children of Adam, by nature children of wrath.
And because of the color of our sin-stained skin,
We deserved all the horror of our racism.
We empower the poor
Because we were once homeless,
Without roof, wall or door.
We thought we had the comforts of Earth
But hell was all we actually had in store.
We do all this and more,
But not because we are trying
to somehow be on our best behavior.
We do it in response to and because of
The true One who taught us how to neighbor.
So, who is your neighbor? It’s anyone who has been in your place
Which is everyone.
Because we all need to move
into God’s neighborhood of grace.
So may the orphan be embraced.
May the lonely be loved.
May the races be restored.
And may we empower the poor.
Because all this and more was first done by our Savior,
The God-man we know as Jesus
Who taught us how to neighbor.
Resource reading: Romans 12:9-21