Jean’s Gospel: Who Is My Neighbor?
“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’ And he answered, ‘You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.’ But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ ” (Luke 10:25-29)
The lawyer, an expert in the Jewish Law, asked Jesus – “And who is my neighbor?” He wanted to know if the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” might exclude any people groups. Faithful discipleship would be a lot easier if we could limit the scope of our love and charity to only those people who are likely to reciprocate or at least share our language, nation, religion, race, ethnicity, etc.
But in asking this question, the lawyer revealed a serious spiritual problem: He had a fundamental misunderstanding of God. There is a sense in which God views the way we treat other people as our treatment of Him. We have many examples of this in the Bible, for example: “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord” (Prov 19:17); “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me” (Luke 9:48); and “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” (Matt 25:35-36) Therefore, if we err in our understanding of who our neighbor is, we will err in our understanding of God.
So Jesus told a parable:
“Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.’ ” (Luke 10:30-33)
A neighbor has compassion even on his enemy. He does not see a “Jew” [or insert group], but a wounded man. If anything qualified the man as a neighbor, it was his wounds.
The Neighbor could have remained in heaven equal in glory to the Father, but out of compassion for His enemies: “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:6-8) God gave us the perfect Neighbor to accomplish Divine compassion for and upon us.
“He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.” (Luke 10:34)
A neighbor is merciful to a stranger in need, sharing what he has available to help the wounded man. A neighbor helps the wounded stranger even when the stranger’s own kinsfolk ignore him.
The Neighbor, “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9) The Neighbor comes to us. The wounds we have suffered in our bondage to sin render us incapable of going to Him for healing.
The Neighbor comes to us through His Word and preachers with Divine medicine: His Gospel heals our sin sick souls and reconciles us to God; He sends the Spirit into our hearts to bear witness with our spirits that we are children of God; and not with an animal, but upon His own shoulders He lays us and carries us as our Good Shepherd who finds us when we are lost.
“And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ ” (Luke 10:35)
A neighbor follows through according to the wounded man’s need. He is generous with his time and financial resources and takes the man to a place where additional suitable care is available.
The Neighbor is generous with His very life, “in that while we were still sinners, [He] died for us.” (Rom 5:8) Yes, the Neighbor ransomed us from sin and death with His own blood and cross.
The Neighbor checks us into His inn, which we call the Church, to give us rest and safekeeping until He returns. In His Church, He appoints innkeepers, who we call pastors and priests, to continue treating us with Divine medicine to strengthen and preserve our faith in Him.
“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise.’ ” (Luke 10:36-37)
As you may have noticed, the Parable of the Good Samaritan is first and foremost a description of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. Jesus is the Neighbor par excellence. Therefore, if we want to know who our neighbor is, we should first look at Jesus. He is the Neighbor to all people, which means all people must be within the definition of a neighbor to us. Jesus, God’s eternal Word, was incarnate of human flesh, so that He could redeem all human flesh, as it is written: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” (Rom 5:18)
The love of God and the love of neighbor are inextricably connected to one another, but everything depends on Jesus Christ, our Neighbor, who first must come to us with His Gospel to give us new life and salvation through the forgiveness of sins, which is ours as a gift to be received by faith in His atoning death and resurrection. Then, as Christ continues to heal and feed us in His Church with His gifts of the Gospel and the Sacraments, He strengthens us in faith towards God and in fervent love towards our neighbors. Amen.
“Where charity and love prevail,
there God is ever found;
Brought here together by Christ’s love,
by love are we thus bound.
With grateful joy and holy fear
God’s charity we learn;
Let us with heart and mind and soul
now love God in return.
Forgive we now each other’s faults
as we our faults confess;
And let us love each other well
in Christian holiness.
Let strife among us be unknown,
let all contention cease;
Be God’s the glory that we seek,
be ours God’s holy peace.
Let us recall that in our midst
dwells God’s begotten Son;
As members of his body joined,
we are in Christ made one.
No race or creed can love exclude,
if honored be God’s name;
Our family embraces all
whose Father is the same.” Amen.
(Where Charity and Love Prevail, tr. Omer E. Westendorf)