Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How to inherit eternal life, part 12: Who is my neighbor?

Jesus replied and said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.' Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands? " And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same." (Luke 10:30-37 NASB)

"Who is my neighbor?" the expert in Mosaic law asked Jesus, who explained to him that everyone is his neighbor. This lawyer soon learned that Jesus views every single person on earth as His neighbor, and He views them as our neighbor, too, no matter how lovely or unlovely they are. (You can read about loving your neighbor as yourself and being a friend to sinners with these links in a separate tab and still keep this one open.) 

To elaborate on the answer to the lawyer's question, "Who is my neighbor?", Jesus used a story to paint a word picture of this neighbor we are to love. Take a few moments and read the Scripture above again. 

The word translated as "man" is anthrĊpos. In this instance, the word means a person, but not a particular person. Jesus did not give them an indication of nationality, gender, or race. This "man" symbolized all mankind. He was any man, all men. He was me and you. He was also our worst enemy and the person we most fear. Before we go any further, we need to understand that the man who was lying, beaten and battered on the side of the road, might have been someone we would want to help, but he might not have been. This understanding matters, as we will soon see, because the word Jesus used made it clear that the identity, lifestyle, nationality, gender, or race of the person in need does not matter. 

The man had been set upon by thieves, beaten severely, and left, half-dead already, to die on the side of the road. He was in a mess and likely looked a mess. His need was tremendous, and it would not be solved by a single donation, a single handout. What he needed, more than anything, was someone who would be a friend to him, someone who would care for him. Don't mistake this "caring for him", however. This was not the kind of caring that cleans up his wounds, applies a bandage, and never sees him again. This was the kind of caring that begins in the heart and expands in the heart to such a degree that there is no rest until the need is met. The care he needed was the care that comes with commitment and extends over time, the care that comes from a heart that loves with no hope of reward or repayment.

This man, the one that can offer nothing in return, the one who was in a terrible mess and in great need, is the one Jesus chose as an example of our neighbor. This man is an example of the neighbor we are to love. Frankly, I would prefer a neighbor with less need, one who requires a shorter commitment, and less investment of time and money. Wouldn't you? 

The good news is that Jesus chose this man as His example because He views the most hopeless situation, the least lovely person as worthy of intervention. The man was half-dead. Left on the side of the road without intervention, he would be dead before long. Despite the difficulty and the severity of the man's condition, Jesus did not view his situation as impossible, nor intervention as a wasted effort. 

What we as believers often fail to remember is that we were this man before Christ redeemed us. We were headed towards eternal damnation, half-way there already, and it seemed as if there was no hope for us, yet God had compassion on us and sent His Son to redeem us. His care for us began in love and manifested itself in commitment that required everything He had to give to save us. Spiritually speaking, this man is not only every man, he is us. 

Since Christ loved us enough to redeem us from our hopeless state, should we not also love those in a similar state? Should we not also see them as our neighbor and intervene in their need? The answer is a resounding YES! Of course we should. 

We love because He first loved us.
                                                1 John 4:19

We are compelled to love our neighbor because our Lord loved us first. He showed us how, and, in this parable, He showed us whom to love. Everyone. Love all. It's not easy, but it is also not optional. Look around you. Our world is filled with people who are this man, the one who needs Jesus the most, even though he may think he needs Him the least. Our job, whether we choose to accept it or not, is to love our neighbor, so, in the name of Jesus, let's do just that. Let us love the most lovely and the least among us, and let us do it because of the great love Jesus has shown to us. 

But now faith, hope, love abide, these three; 
but the greatest of these is love. 
                                                            1 Corinthians 13:13