How Can I Be a Neighbor?

In some sense the most benevolent, generous person in the world seeks his own happiness in doing good to others, because he places his happiness in their good. His mind is so enlarged as to take them, as it were, into himself. Thus when they are happy, he feels it; he partakes with them, and is happy in their happiness.

-Jonathan Edwards

The Good Samaritan

In the book of Luke there is a story mentioned that was told by Jesus in a conversation he was having with a lawyer. The lawyer decided to put him(Jesus) to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”(Luke 10:25) Jesus turned the question back to the lawyer asking him “what does God’s word say is the way to eternal life?” The Lawyer then proceeds to recite the commands: “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)

After Jesus writes a big red check on the test, the lawyer though gets a little specific. The lawyer has an ill motive behind what he is about to say and so in verse 29 the lawyer says: “And who is my neighbor?” This well educated man clearly knew the obvious thought in all our minds that your neighbor is the person who lives next to you and in your community but as the text points out, this lawyer wanted to justify his actions. We can assume based on the context that this Lawyer did not look at everyone he was around as his neighbor. Some people were his neighbor but others he did not consider neighbors. In his eyes, the doctrine of being made in the image of God did not apply to everyone. There were some people that just did not deserve respect and honor. They did not deserve to be loved or cared for like he did. They were less than human and what a clarification in your heart if you could hear God say: “ Yes, Tim is less than human. He is annoying, disgusting and you do not have to love Tim. Tim is the exception to the law.”

This lawyer wanted Jesus, the man who had been prophesied about, this man who was according to some the Son of God to just be on his side with this one.

Well Jesus answered the question with one of the hardest punches to the chest you can get. A story even government schools tell.

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

The question the lawyer asked was: “Who is my neighbor?” The question Jesus answers is: How can I be a neighbor?

We think of a neighbor as the person next door or across the street. We even go so far at times to say anyone in my neighborhood is my neighbor which would not be wrong either. It’s interesting though that the Samaritan was not this mans neighbor according to the map. This Samaritan was just passing through. I typically do not consider the stranger in the car next to me in Downtown Valdosta my neighbor. I consider them a stranger I have no need to get to know. The Samaritan obviously did not think like I would, thank God.

The Samaritan seen a man lying broken on the side of the road and seen this man as his neighbor. Think about the responsibility and accountability you have towards your neighbor next door. Your neighbor next door knows your face, your name, and what kind of car you drive. Say your neighbor broke down on the side of the road and you were driving by. If you do not stop to help your neighbor then your neighbor will notice and you and your neighbor will now have tension across the fence because you both know that one of you was in need and the other did not care. So as the good person you are, you do care for your neighbor. You take responsibility for their two year old son who accidentally ran into the street when no one was looking. You cared for your neighbors in that when that happened you rushed out there, stopped traffic and picked two year old Chuck up to let his parents know what happened.

You are the neighbor who when Sara next door needs her kids clothes washed but has no way to wash the clothes, offers up to allow Sara to use your wash machine and dryer. You took responsibility over Sara’s families hygiene so that her kids did not go to school the next day with dirty clothes.

What if we looked at everyone as our neighbor? How can we be a neighbor to those around us? The Samaritan took responsibility for the man he just met. He cared for him in insurmountable ways and at the end of the story, Jesus tells the lawyer: “You go, and do likewise.”

In another situation with a lawyer Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is. Jesus responds:

 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Matthew 22:37-39

Why is it that loving our neighbors is so hard for us? For me it is because I do not honestly look at my neighbors as neighbors. I do not look at anyone really as a neighbors besides the people I choose to be my neighbor. In my head I justify my disobedience towards this command by saying: “I love my friends and they are my neighbors.” Yet my friends are not the only people in my life. I, like the lawyer in the first story did not look at everyone as my neighbor. I did not look at myself as anyone’s neighbor. I picked and chose who I would love and who I would say I “loved.”

In the first story you had a Samaritan and a Jew. The Jew was left broken on the side of the road. This man was passed by his own people who ignored him. Yet the Samaritan, a person from the people group that the Jews hate and look at as “less than” is the person who stopped and cared for the man beyond his wildest dreams. It was the person the Jew least expected to help him. This raises a question though that I will end on.

How can I be a neighbor?

The way Jesus loved people was radical. It was intense and we have never seen anything else like it. No one has died for people in the way Jesus died for us. Jesus bore our sins and our guilt. He took on all the shame we feel and he walked in our shoes for over 30 years and in that he showed the greatest act of love in history.

Being a neighbor is not complicated. It just takes us getting over our fears of the “what ifs” and just being the neighbor. As a church kid I remember my old pastor always saying at the end of the sermon when it was time for the altar call that the hardest part was taking that first step out of the pew. Once you took that first step you had done the hardest part. For us in our everyday lives that is the hardest thing for us to do. Take that first step over the property line and carry the “welcome to the neighborhood” cookies over to the new neighbors. Even better, take them to the old neighbors too. It might be weird to finally after 20 years of living next door to a person to one day finally walk over and introduce yourself but it is better than not. Jesus never asked for you to meet some criteria to love someone. He commanded you to love them. There is no excuse not too.

It may look like hosting a monthly game night at your house where you feed the people, you open up your home, and you create an environment for people to enjoy life for a couple of hours. When you invite people into your home you are inviting them into your life. The messiness of it. It’s not about having the nicest home. It’s about having the experience of someone(you) looking at another human being and saying: “I want you in my life through the good and the bad. I want to care about you on an intimate level.” It is about being vulnerable so that you can feel what others feel.

When it came to the Samaritan he made himself vulnerable in a very dangerous way. The text says: And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ The Samaritan could have been abused financially by both the inn keeper and the broken man, yet the Samaritan took the risk because the goal was not to come out on top. The goal was not to be looked at and praised or to achieve some higher financial status. The Samaritan actually did the same thing Jesus does for us in that the Samaritan gave all he could and was vulnerable at the same time. The broken man had nothing to worry about financially or medically. He was taken care of completely not just in the present tense but also in the future.

Jesus was the good Samaritan to us in that he got on our level. He understood all of our pain and took the humble position of going through the most traumatic event in all of history. He understands what it is like to be a human more than we do. Jesus was hanging naked on a cross, beaten to the point you could not recognize him and yet in that same vulnerable state, Jesus paid the entire price for us to be taken care of. Jesus saves us completely and we could abuse his grace and sin continuously causing grace to abound more and more but that was not the goal. Jesus could get nothing in return from us. Jesus just wanted to love us where we were and in that love it causes us to mirror it into the world.

To reflect that love of being a neighbor to others we have to take a humble position and be vulnerable. We have to focus on why we are doing what we are doing. Our motives need to be to reflect Christ' into the world and show the world that he loves them. To do this we need to love not just our friends and family but also the least of these. The people who probably will never walk into a church. We need to love the people who hate us and who annoy us. We need to love the widows and the orphans. Christ’ love never had boundaries or picked and chose who it would fall on. God’s love is aimed at his people who are a messy bunch of misfits who do not deserve anything under the sun yet God has blessed them with that and more and so we should do likewise. We should love people the way Christ did. We should challenge ourselves more everyday by asking the simple question: “How can I better love the people I am around today?” Grow in it, ask God for the strength to overcome your fears of rejection and of not feeling qualified enough. Rest in God’s sovereignty over where he placed you and grow in the strength he has given you to take that first step.

Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

By: Austin Neil Gregory