Who is My Neighbor?
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
~ Matthew 22:37-40
When Jesus spoke these words, the religious teachers didn’t challenge his answer, but instead sought to justify their utter failure to obey this commandment to love. One of the legal experts, seeking to justify himself, asked “who is my neighbor?” He was clearly looking for a narrow answer, something that would let him off the hook.
Instead, as was his practice, Jesus answered with a story. He talked about a man who was injured by robbers and lay by the side of the road, unable to help himself. Priests and Levites passed him by without helping him, crossing to the other side of the road to avoid even the taint of this needy man. But then a Samaritan, a despised half-breed in the eyes of Jesus’ audience, saw the wounded man and had compassion. He did more than stop, he loaded the man on his donkey, took him to an inn and paid for his care. He even promised to return. Jesus told his listeners, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37).
Jesus flipped the lawyer’s question – the question is not “who is my neighbor?”, the question is, “am I being a neighbor to others?” We shouldn’t see this command as an obligation that we limit, but an opportunity to love God that we expand.
Jesus reiterated versions of this command several times before his death. On the night of the last supper he washed his disciples feet, and said, “you also should wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:15). When he heard his disciples quarrelling over who would be greatest in the kingdom, he admonished them and said, “the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” (Luke 22:26). During the last supper, after he had given them representations of his body and his blood, he looked at his disciples (except for Judas, who had left to perform his treachery), “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34).
Of all the many commands that we in Christ’s church have violated, our failure to love one another and to love our neighbors as ourselves is perhaps the most egregious. By failing to love one another, we also fail to love God. The solution seems fairly simple, in theory. We must give up all hatred and emotional contentiousness, and hand ourselves over to the love that Christ taught us to have.
Lord, help me to grow every day in the love for you and my fellow man. Amen.
~ Steve Peterson