I live in a neighborhood, and several people live near me as my neighbors. I did not choose who moved into the houses around me. (Of course, in some neighborhoods, covenants are put in place to keep out the wrong kind of people.)
But, this post is not about that kind of neighbor.
This post is about the other kind of neighbor. This post is about the kind of neighbor that Jesus referred to when he told people, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
In response to this command, someone asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” This person wanted to choose his neighbor. He wanted to choose who to love. In response to this question, Jesus tells a story that we now called “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.”
I know that you’ve read it, but please take the time to read it again:
Jesus replied, “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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 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. 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.’ 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.”
Notice that the priest and the Levite attempted to choose their neighbor. They decided that this man was not their neighbor. Now, it’s often speculated that the priest and the Levite were hurrying along in order to do their temple-based work. Perhaps. Jesus doesn’t include that bit of information in the story, because it doesn’t matter. It does not matter where they were going or what they were planning to do. They decided that the whatever or wherever was more important than taking care of this man, and so they decided that this man was not their neighbor.
Jesus did not give them that option. Notice his final question: “Which of these three proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” You see, at the moment that they passed by and saw the bloody and beaten man lying by the road, both the priest and the Levite were his neighbor. But, they did not demonstrate that the man was their neighbor. Instead, they attempted to choose their neighbor, and in their choosing, they decided this man must not be their neighbor.
Again, Jesus did not give them that option.
So… who is my neighbor? Who is your neighbor? Jesus does not give us the option to choose who is or who is not our neighbor. There may not be a person lying on the side of the road, but I bet there is someone in your life and in my life who is in need of mercy. That person is our neighbor. Right now.
We will prove to be that person’s neighbor?