So the pastor asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

The Bible is a thick book.  Always has been.  In the first century, an expert in the Old Testament Scriptures asked Jesus to summarize all of the commands in the Bible into the greatest commandment, to slim down that thick book into something easy to remember.  Jesus tells him the greatest commandment is to love God with all your being and he throws in a close 2nd, to love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:35-40)

In a different conversation, another expert in the Old Testament Scriptures wanted to press Jesus further on this issue.  He asks Jesus, Who is my neighbor?  These experts in the Law would be the equivalent of a modern day seminary professor and pastor rolled into one.  The expert in the Law in Luke 10:25-37 was testing Jesus as well as seeking to justify himself.  Jesus’s answer is no less astounding 2000 years later as it was when it came off his lips.  But we so often miss what makes it so astounding…

In order tell this religious leader who his neighbor is, Jesus goes to the heart of ethnic and religious prejudice of the day.  Sound biblical interpretation must keep this same heart as we apply this text to our American cultural milieu in 2017.  What you need to know about Luke 10:25-37 is that the religious leader was Jewish (as Jesus was) and the beaten up man in the parable was Jewish.  So in order to apply this story to your life and your culture, you must first put yourself in the shoes of someone who has been robbed, beaten, and left for dead.  And you are a pastor.

Comfortable?

Now one of your own people comes by.  Another pastor like you.  He is too busy to stop, walks around you because he doesn’t want your blood flowing onto his new TOMS Shoes, and goes along his way.  This happens a second time with another one of your pastor colleagues.

The man who ends up stopping is a Samaritan.  Jews and Samaritans hated each other.  First century Jews looked down their noses at the Samaritans for a number of reasons, namely that they were of mixed bloodlines and had a different religious system.  Samaria was a border region in-between Judea and Galilee and was avoided at all costs.  Jews would have journeyed around Samaria (a 3-day detour!) rather than walk through it.

The Samaritan is the one who stops and mends the robbed, broken, beaten Jewish man and pays for his recovery to health.  And notice he doesn’t interview him or check his paperwork or try to determine if it was his fault he got into this mess or not.  He just loves him.

Jesus says this Samaritan displays who Jesus was referring to when he said the 2nd greatest commandment in all of Scripture is to the love your neighbor as yourself.  It’s not to love people like you, who have the same skin color as you, who speak the same language as you, who have the same religion as you, who are of the same socioeconomic status as you, or who are from the same side of the border as you.  It’s fine to love those people, the people just like you, but that’s not at all what this parable is about.  If that’s how we apply it, we are being unbiblical and blatantly missing the heart of Jesus.  If you’re a Christian, does that make you comfortable? 

One more note, whenever you hear the word “love,” you must substitute it for, “stop, mend the broken, touch the wound, carry the burden, and pay for the cost involved.”  This is a lot different than how we would like to define the word love!  So let’s love our neighbor:

Does this include our undocumented Mexican immigrant neighbor?

If it includes Jews and Samaritans in the 1st century, do you think it does?

Does this include Muslims and refugees?

If it includes Jews and Samaritans in the 1st century, do you think it does?

Does this include white to black and black to white?  Remember Jesus’s definition: “stop, mend the broken, touch the wound, carry the burden, and pay for the cost involved.”

If it includes Jews and Samaritans in the 1st century, do you think it does?

Lord forgive us of our party lines and political rhetoric we cling to instead of getting off our horse and mending the wounds of the broken that are laying in front of our door.  We don’t even see the broken because we are so blinded by pixels and deafened by earbuds.  Forgive us.

Jesus got killed for saying this stuff, it wouldn’t be surprising for the American Church to reject it as well.  But brothers and sisters, we don’t need to go down that road!  Let’s hold unswervingly to the Bible as God’s Word and love our neighbor exactly like Jesus’s commanded us to.

We’ve obviously fallen way short of Jesus’s standard, but that also shouldn’t surprise us.  Falling short of Jesus’s standard should not lead us to feelings of shame or guilt or God forbid, defending ourselves, even arguing against Jesus that we are right and he is wrong.  We have grace!  We have been forgiven and given 2nd chance after 2nd chance!  Our sin has been bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus so we can walk in freedom and yes, walk in love.  Let’s use these dark and tumultuous times, when robbed and beaten up and left-for-dead men and women are lying in front of our doorsteps, just like in the ditch in the Good Samaritan parable, to love our neighbor.

When the pastor asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”  We know who he is pointing to.  The question is if we will obey or not.

Endnotes:

This is not to say there should be “open borders” or “no vetting process.”  Those are political rhetoric phrases intended to shut down this entire conversation–the classic straw man debate argument.  Sadly they are meant to blind people from the whole picture of information, information that is very enlightening!

Join us on Wednesday, March 29th at the Hannah Community Center in East Lansing for Love Your Neighbor: An educational event on immigration and refugees.  We will be talking about what misconceptions are out there, what the current policies are, what needs to change, and how you can help, plus a Q&A session–all in the heart of learning how to love our neighbor.

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One response to So the pastor asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”


  1. “This is not to say there should be “open borders” or “no vetting process.” Why not? In terms of politics open borders may be a valid question, but in terms of being Christian, where should the borders lie or what’s the vetting process we should use with others? It seems like we all make judgments but is that ok or should we be moving towards breaking them down? Looking at Jesus, where were his limits? He opened himself up to Samaritans, Romans, lepers and Pharisees, and in doing so challenged the political realities he was living in.

    In 2017, church in America seems intertwined with politics in unhealthy ways. Anyone challenging things like Jesus did seems to be challenging not only the political and social norms but also church ones too. The hazards of being a pastor following Jesus and navigating those waters and leading others must be high when the sheep don’t know what pasture they’re in. It’s good when there’s believers willing to take the hits being faithful. Praying the conference means fruit.

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