Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Dakota McGrath – Student Worship Director

Have you ever been hurt? Has someone made a decision that affected not only you but many of those that are close to you? I think we have all gone through something like this,

Maybe you’ve held on to this anger or pain for a while now. Maybe you have somehow just pushed it away. Or maybe you haven’t seen this person since and have not dealt with it.

I recently have dealt with some pain in my own life that I thought had passed and yet, when I encountered this person for the first time in a while, I was very quickly reminded that I had some unhealthy resentment built up in my life.

Then I remembered Jesus taught on a similar topic that brought a lot of healing and opportunity to love again in these situations. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus has this interaction with a lawyer about not only life after death, but how to live life to its fullest potential. This lawyer (which means expert in the scriptures) comes to Jesus and asks “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

This guy isn’t looking for an answer to change his perspective, he’s an “expert” in the Torah (the first five books of the bible. Genesis, Exodus, etc…), he’s looking more for a debate of sorts. These lawyers would spend hours discussing and talking about the law with each other, so you know that once Jesus answers this man, he has a response for him.

Jesus answers like most Jewish rabbis in the first century with a question, saying, “How does the Torah instruct you to live?”

Not surprised by Jesus’ response, the lawyer begins to quote passages from Deuteronomy and Leviticus about loving God and loving your neighbor being the most important things you can do to inherit eternal life.

Jesus responds, “Good answer! Do this and you will live.”

Sounds like a great plan, right? Yes; however, the lawyer isn’t done testing Jesus.

The man, wanting to justify himself, asks Jesus, “But, how would you define ‘neighbor’?”

Jesus being the great teacher He is, begins to answer with a story.

The text reads:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. “

Let’s pause there. It’s important to note that Jesus isn’t making a point that these guys are bad people. In fact, in their day, according to the Torah, if you had contact with someone else’s blood, you would be considered ceremonially unclean.

And if you’re a Levite or a priest, to serve your people, to be true to your God, to contribute your part to your tribe, you can only do that if you remain ceremonially clean.

So when they come across the man, they each have to ask themselves…

“Do I help just this one man and in the process make myself unclean (which means I can’t my tribe for a while) or do I walk on by?”

Any telling of this story that makes them the bad guys misses the point of why Jesus is telling this story.

Which we’re about to get to…

Then the scriptures continue:
“But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.”

I’m sure the lawyer’s jaw dropped when Jesus said “Samaritan.” Samaritans were hated by lawmakers and lawyers for generations; this hatred ran deep in this man’s blood. Needless to say, he was surprised to hear Jesus bring a Samaritan into this story about being a neighbor.

As Jesus finishes he asks, “Which of these three do you think was the neighbor to this man?”

Who was the neighbor in this parable?

The answer is The Samaritan, right? Yes, that’s correct.

But how does the lawyer answer?

“The one who showed him mercy.”

The lawyer’s hatred for this man runs so deep that he can’t even say “the Samaritan.” He just answers Jesus by calling him “the one…”

But that is your neighbor.

That’s who you’re supposed to love.

That’s where you find eternal life; in loving your neighbor, the one you hate, the one who is like human sandpaper to you, the one you wish you could just make disappear, the one who’s name you can’t even come around to say.

Some people we have boundaries with. Some people are so toxic and dangerous and hurtful, some people have done so much damage to us that we have to keep our distance. We love them from a distance. That’s all part of being healthy. But even then, we must forgive so that this hatred and bitterness won’t destroy us from the inside out.

You can make this a story about who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy, which is fine, but I think Jesus is calling us to something much stronger and more compelling. Jesus is asking us to love as God loves. And that means everyone. Even those you despise or those who have hurt you the most. Jesus is challenging the man to show this unconditional, counter cultural love to those who are the most difficult to love.

That’s eternal life.

Grace and peace.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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