While studying Luke 10:25-37 over the past several articles, we have looked at Jesus’ teaching methods, good and bad questions, examples of how to not show love to our neighbor, and an example of what it does mean to love our neighbor.
Now that we’ve seen the context, and received the illustration, it’s time for the quiz:
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Luke 10:36-37 NIV
We find that Jesus didn’t just give a dictionary definition of “neighbor” when He was asked, “And who is my neighbor?” (verse 29). He doesn’t list a series of criteria here, for someone to be considered a neighbor. Instead, He has given a compelling illustration, and now it’s time for the expert in the law to get involved: not to just repeat back what he has been told, but to show that he really understood the point of the story.
Now, I noticed a subtle thing here. The expert in the law asked who was his neighbor, but after sharing the parable, Jesus asked this lawyer which character in the parable “was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers…” So, which is it? Did we learn that the man who was robbed and beaten was a neighbor to the Samaritan, or did we learn that the Samaritan was a neighbor.
Let me ask you this: When it comes to the people who live next to you, can you be their neighbor (in the strictly geographic sense) without them being your neighbor? I don’t think so: like being siblings or friends or business partners; if I am a neighbor to you, then you are a neighbor to me.
We might call this the “Reflexive Property of Neighbor Status”. When we find people who are in need (and who we can help) to be our neighbor, we are also a neighbor to them. And, this status of being a neighbor transcends people who like us (or are like us).
There are different ways to interpret the answer supplied to Jesus’ question, and perhaps the one that we prefer depends on our attitude towards the expert in the law: If we are cynical and jaded, we might say that he answered the way he did because he didn’t want to say the words – that the Samaritan (his enemy according to cultural norms of that day) was a neighbor.
If we are giving him the benefit of the doubt, though, we might say that he answered the way he did because the nationality of the good neighbor in this story wasn’t as important as the fact that the Samaritan showed mercy (see also Micah 6:6-8, Amos 5:14-15).
Personally, I’m not sure about the expert’s motivation, but it didn’t stop Jesus from making the point: We should act like the one who had mercy in this example. That won’t always be easy, and – just as we have no evidence of the victim here trying to pay back the Samaritan who helped him – we can’t expect everyone who we treat as a neighbor to act with mercy back to us. Still, this one-sided expression of love (to those who aren’t able to pay us back, no less) isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also a means to do for others what Jesus Christ already did for us.
Said another way, if you ever feel that you have fully “paid it forward” for Jesus’ sacrifice, let me know: I’m sure that I can find more neighbors in need!
From Sunday School lesson prepared for May 1, 2022
- The Lookout, May 1, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Luke, by Mark C. Black. College Press Publishing Company, © 1996.