How to be a Neighbor
“But wanting to justify himself, the lawyer asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?'” – Luke 10:29
Just before the parable of the Good Samaritan, a lawyer tried to trick Jesus so he asked him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered by the Book: love God and love your neighbor. But the lawyer sought a loophole: “And who is my neighbor?” What he really wanted to know was, “Who is not my neighbor?”
Jesus did what he so often did; he told a story. A man was robbed and beaten and left for dead on the Jericho Road, when first a priest and later a Levite came upon him and “passed by on the other side.” The lawyer would have recognized these men as men of authority, men like him.
Then a traveling Samaritan came upon the man and was “moved to pity.” He bandaged the man’s wounds and, placing him on his own animal, took him to an inn and took care of him.
The lawyer, listening to Jesus’s story, would have been well aware that the Samaritan was a despised heretic, no neighbor of his.
Jesus asked him, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
The Samaritan was “moved to pity,” showed mercy, and did what needed to be done. That is what makes him “good” and a true neighbor.
Jesus’s story changed the focus. To ask “Who is my neighbor?” is to seek the limits of my responsibility to my neighbors. A better question is “Can I be a neighbor to those who need me?”
Move us to help those who need us, O God, and to show mercy to them as you have shown mercy to us.
Richard L. Floyd is Pastor Emeritus of First Church of Christ (UCC) in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. A writer and author, his most recent publications are Romans, Parts 1 and 2 (with Michael S. Bennett), new titles in the “Listen Up!” Bible Study Series. He blogs at richardlfloyd.com.