Who is Not my Neighbor
by Heather Gutman
The Religious Leaders of Jesus day were always checking out Jesus' law-keeping. He was soft on sin. That's the only explanation. After all, His entire disciple-base was tax collectors, loose women, common rabble, the sick and deformed – "sinners." The Pharisees, however, prided themselves that they refused to "water down" their teachings like He did. They would not lower church standards just so they would get the kind of crowds Jesus did. He didn't fool them – In "His Church" people could do whatever they wanted. It was like sin didn't matter. His followers seemed happy, carefree, in fact, unconcerned about their sins. It was like, they had no clue how bad they were, and He certainly didn't seem to take the trouble to point it out. Regardless what they did or how many times they did it, He forgave them. He seemed to totally accept them exactly as they were, unchanged. And with virtually no effort or sacrifice on their part, they ate, drank, and danced – celebrating their life in Jesus' presence. Either He was deceiving them in order to secure a large following, or His theology was demonically screwed up.
So the religious leaders constantly peppered Jesus with questions about the Law. He obviously had no regard for it. It didn't seem to matter that these people He hung around with broke it, ignored it, and trampled all over it. So over and over again the religious leaders sent people to pound Him with questions only to return saying, "Never has a man spoken like this man." But they had to expose Him, so they didn't let up. This time a lawyer approaches Him.
"And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? [Jesus realized what he was implying – "If the people You hang out with is any indication, there would seem to be no requirements! But Jesus calmly replied . . .]
"What is written in the law? What does it say?
"And he replied, '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, 'Good answer: do what you said, and you'll live.
"But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29)
No brilliant, new information there. Sixteen hundred years before, Moses had summarized the Ten Commandments with two: Love God, and love your neighbor (Lev. 19:18). But endless debates had taken place among the teachers of the Law trying to define who was their neighbor. And certainly the associations of Jesus seemed anything but in harmony with the traditions set up by the religious to protect the purity of God's Holy People. They interpreted God's rules as condemning association with pagans, gentiles, and Samaritans. If they touched certain kinds of "sinners" they were "unclean." Women were inferior to men. The poor, sick and handicapped were obviously under the curse of God and must be avoided. Tax collectors were traitors to God's people: hence, so sinful that one must cross to the other side of the street to avoid contamination. So defining "neighbor" was no simple task. Jesus was trapped. They had Him.
Instead of answering, Jesus told them a story. A Jew is robbed on his way to Jerusalem and left to die. A priest and a Levite, probably on their way to worship or serve in the temple, happen to come by. To stop would ceremonially contaminate them and cause them inconvenience. They most likely would miss appointments, ruin their clothes with blood and dirt, have to disqualify themselves for temple service, and cost them precious time and money. Besides, they themselves could be robbed if they stopped to help. So they "passed by on the other side" (Luke 10:31-32). But then a Samaritan came by and had pity on him, bandaged his wounds, put him on his donkey [Now he had to walk] and took him to an hotel, paid for his room and medical treatment and promised to come back and pay more later. Then Jesus asked
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (Luke 10:36) So Jesus lets the lawyer answer the question, and behold the trap has disappeared. He didn't belittle the man like the man had sought to belittle Him. This lawyer had just been confronted by the Son of God, the embodiment of the Law and love and found himself the neighbor – loved not by the Jew next door but God of all men – a universe away. He who rejected the gentiles and Samaritans around him found himself the object of God's unconditional love.
Paul, Jew of all Jews, had discovered that in God's Kingdom, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise" (Gal 3:28-29) And again, "In this new life, it doesn't matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us" (Col 3:11).
So who is NOT your neighbor. We all have them, you know – "not-neighbors". Just like the Religious Leaders of Jesus' day, there are people we feel superior to, people we feel are not deserving of our love and help. They deserve what they get. We are in God's favor and they are not. Let the Holy Spirit find yours and when He does, stop by the side of the road, right then, and tend to that person's wounds.
Prayerfully find yours here: Liberal, Conservative, Rich people, Poor people, Politicians, Police officers, Criminals, Lawyers, Ugly people, Beautiful people, the man with one arm, the child with the withered Cerebral Palsied hand and foot, handicapped, mentally challenged, smart people, Garbage collectors, Golfers, Truck drivers, Taxi drivers, Lexus drivers, Slow drivers, Tailgaters, Artists, Scientists, Evolutionists, Creationists, Socialists, Capitalists, Welfare recipients, Public Servants, Blue collar workers, White collar workers, Telemarketers, Televangelists, Feminists, Chauvinists, Contemporary, Traditionalist, Progressive, Homemakers, Home wreckers, Homosexuals, Heterosexuals, Transsexuals, Heterosexuals, Students, Teachers, Street people, Salesmen, Atheists, Religious, Blacks, Whites, Reds, Yellows, Blondes, Brunettes, Jews, Arabs, Muslims, Prisoners, Men, Women, Adults, Children, Therapists, Famous people, Prostitutes, Pedophiles, Fat people, Skinny people, Dog people, Cat people, Tennessee fans, USF fans, Vegetarians, Vegans, Carnivores, Conformists, Anarchists, Hippies, Yuppies, Long hair, Tattoo people, Virgins, Drinkers, Teetotalers, Rockers, Country music people. Etc. Etc. Etc.
You would think that embracing this kind of acceptance would create a world of peace, but as we all know, this radical kind of acceptance caused the death of Jesus and some of the worst persecution our world has ever seen. That's why Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Matthew 10:34. We are all the Priest and the Levite who passed the man on the other side. Opening ourselves up to the scrutinizing light of the gospel is our only hope. 1 John 1:7 declares if we will do it, it will produce sweet fellowship with each other, and it gives permission to Jesus to "cleanse us of all sin." Only Jesus can make us the Samaritan. So who is NOT your neighbor?