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The Neighbor Test

August 2013
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Who is my neighborHere’s a question for us to consider. Who is my neighbor? And let’s go beyond the usual response of family, friends, and folks we know at church or at work, or those we associate with on a regular basis. Maybe we aren’t quite sure exactly what the definition of “neighbor” is and who it includes. So let me ask a second question. If you came upon a person who had been beaten, robbed, and left for dead, what would be your reaction? Would you try to help that person? Call 911? Or would you walk away pretending not to see him or her because you reasoned it wasn’t your concern or that you didn’t want to get involved? How about a homeless person, or someone you know or don’t know personally who is obviously in some type of need?

An expert in Jewish law asked Jesus this very question, “Who is my neighbor?” in The Parable of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37). Let’s read the dialogue in that parable:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“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.”

Notice in verse 29 that the expert in Jewish law wanted to justify himself when he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” The response he got, in verses 30-37, most likely wasn’t what he expected. As we read through that parable we see that not only did a Priest walk by “on the other side” of the beaten and robbed man, but so did a Levite, both totally ignoring the man. It was a Samaritan, whom the Jews had a deep hatred for, who took pity on the man and not only helped him right then and there by bandaging his wounds but went beyond the immediate need and took care of him for the next several days by paying for a room at an inn and telling the innkeeper to look after him and that he would pay any additional expenses when he returned. Wow, how often do we hear a story like this one today?

When Jesus asked the expert in Jewish law “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers” (v. 36), he responded, “The one who had mercy on him.” And then Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise” (v. 37).

While it’s not every day that we might run into someone in the condition of the man in the parable who was beaten, robbed and left for dead, we do run into folks who are in need—the homeless and others who are in need and less fortunate. And what is our response to them?

I read a response written by one man in a devotion titled, “The Neighbor Test,” in Open Windows.” His name is Terry Bowman and here is his response:

When I worked in a large city I parked in an area frequented by homeless people seeking money for food. At first I refused, concerned that the money would be used for alcohol or drugs. However, I felt convicted that the hunger might be real. Later, I decided to give five-dollar gift certificates for a local fast food restaurant.

A Jewish lawyer once asked Jesus who qualified as his neighbor. Jesus answered the question with the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). A deep hatred existed between the Jews and the Samaritans. Imagine the impact of the parable on His Jewish audience when the hero of the story proved to be a Samaritan. Jesus’ story emphasized that the important question is not “Who is my neighbor?” Rather, the paramount question is, “To whom can I be a neighbor?”

Every day we are presented opportunities to be godly neighbors. Every day we must choose to surrender, responding obediently to these God-given occasions to show mercy to others. Will you say yes to God and turn good intentions into fulfilled assignments?

Father, make me sensitive to the needs of people who cross my path, and help me to be a good neighbor.

Everyone is my neighbor“People who cross my path” . . . . Beyond the examples listed above, it could also include an encounter with an angry driver on the road, a clerk who was impatient or cross with us, someone we don’t like because of some gossip we heard about them (which might not even be true), someone of a different nationality then us, or a different race. Let’s get even more personal—someone who got the promotion we thought we deserved at work, someone who gets more attention than we do at church or some other social setting, or someone who isn’t living up to our own preconceived standards or rules for living. Need more? Okay, how about a prostitute, or a drunk, or someone shouting profanities, or someone who adamantly disagrees with us?

Are we getting the picture yet? How we treat others speaks volumes about who we are at the core of our being and as a society. And do we care?

If we hate someone, why do we hate them? And is that hatred even rational (not to mention that it is wrong)? And even if they have done us wrong, what was Jesus’ response on the issue of forgiveness (see Matt. 18:21-22)? And if we find ourselves being mean-spirited to someone, especially someone we don’t even know, what is the real reason behind that attitude of meanness?

Now I’m certainly not pointing fingers at anyone. I struggle with this just as much as anyone else reading this post. While I’ve never run into a person who was beaten, robbed and left for dead, I have run into the homeless, and like the fellow in the devotion above I feel convicted that their hunger (and their plight) is real, but there are so many of them in our society today that I feel helpless as to how to help all of the homeless I have passed by while driving on the road (which is where I primarily encounter them), and many times I give what I can (at a red light or a stop sign), but other times I pass by not sure what to do and part of the reason right now is because I have been unemployed for so very long now myself without any income; however, I don’t let that stop me all of the time. But it does stop me some of the time.

And what about those “disagreeable” folks we all run into (and we actually are, too, at times)? I mostly return any nasty attitudes I encounter with kindness because, for one thing, that is what my mother taught me to do and that is what I would like to receive from others. And if they really upset me at least I wait until I get home and take it out by yelling at my walls (not saying that is right but it is sure a lot better than yelling or being mean back at them during a confrontation).

I have noticed, during this very long time of unemployment and perhaps due to the economic conditions that haven’t improved greatly over the last several years, that there is an undercurrent of “meanness” in our society especially from folks we don’t personally know and also from folks we do know. It’s part of that whole “Looking out for #1” mentality that is so pervasive in our society today. And I’m sure there are other factors that account for it as well. But being mean is about as opposite as being “neighborly” as one can get.

Whatever happened to treating others as we want to be treated? That would solve the whole problem in a nutshell. And it wouldn’t matter who we ran into and what their particular situation might be because we would treat them like we would want to be treated regardless of their situation. It’s not just about us, folks. It’s about them, too.

And it’s called showing mercy. Remember mercy?

So, “Who is our neighbor?” . . .

We all are . . . .

YouTube Video: “Games People Play” by The Alan Parsons Project:

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