Luke 10:29 NIV
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
Are You Trying To Find Your Neighbor?
The famous “Mr. Rogers”, built a career by singing about being a neighbor. In a world that is growing more and more packed with people, are we neighbors or billions of individuals walking about on our own? The most critical concern we have is almost always tied to what we face ourselves or perhaps what those closest to us are facing. Yet, are we made to be that way? Are you supposed to be disconnected from the world about you? The news makes you constantly aware of those who need help, whether it is the story of the woman who is kidnapped or the account of villagers whose homes have been wrecked by earthquakes. Yet the more you know about the problems of the world, the less you know about the problems of those right next to you. It may seem presumptuous to ask, but what is your normal response when you realize someone needs help? How do you react to real problems those near you face? It is strange perhaps to ask if you love your neighbor because of course you do. Who doesn’t? Yet we must give it some thought, this question. Do we love our neighbors? Do you?
Famously, a Jewish expert on Old Testament Law approached Christ and asked Him, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10: 25 NIV) The Lord flipped the question around and asked the man what the Law said about 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.'" (Luke 10:27 NIV) Jesus affirmed this answer and told the expert on the Law, "Do this and you will live." (Luke 10:28 NIV) Then came the most memorable question, “Who is my neighbor?” It is a good question if I am to love my neighbor as myself. Who is my neighbor then? It is fascinating though how Jesus in His own way of giving answers to the questions of skeptics and critics did not actually answer that specific question. He answered a completely different question with his story of the “Good Samaritan”.
When two Jewish religious leaders ignored the beaten Jewish victim of a mugging as they walked along the road where his broken body stretched out on the side in plain view, it was a Samaritan, one whose nationality made him hated by Jews, who came to the Jewish man’s rescue and took care of him. Then Jesus when He finished the story asked the teacher of Jewish Law who it was that was the neighbor to the man that was beaten. It is a subtle but critical shift Jesus made. He did not give a reply to the question, “Who is the neighbor that must receive love” but told the skeptic through His story who the neighbor is that gives love. That is a completely different question and answer and the man who asked the question originally was so stunned by the direction Jesus’ story took that He did not even acknowledge or maybe even realize how thoroughly Christ shifted the focus. We are never to ask who our neighbor is that we are to love but always probe to discover if we are the neighbor who loves. It is as if Jesus was asked, “Who is the patient?” and He told instead who the doctor was. Or perhaps He might have been asked whose house was on fire and instead He told who the fireman was.
The first sign Jesus gave to the world that He was the Messiah was turning the water into wine. He was at a wedding feast with His mother, Joseph, the one chosen by God to act as father to Jesus having passed away by then, and Mary was either told or discovered on her own that the groom had run out of wine for all the guests. This was one of the most humiliating things that could happen to a young man, a blunder that would most likely be remembered and retold in his village at least the rest of his life. Mary, recognizing just how traumatizing this would be for the young couple as they started off their new life together, came to her son Jesus and told Him the situation. Jesus’ reply is almost shocking, given what we know of Him now. Literally, He responded to her news, “What to you and to me?” “What does this have to do with us?” (See John 2: 4)
When it comes to being a neighbor or loving as a neighbor, this is the second most important question you must ask yourself. The first is, “Am I a neighbor who loves?” The second is, “What does this have to do with me?” “Is this my problem?” When Jesus cast this question upon Mary, His mother’s response shows how profoundly she trusted Jesus to do what was right. Rather than replying to Jesus, she went back to the servants of the groom who may have been panicking at the moment over what to do about the lack of wine, and told them to follow exactly Jesus’ instructions. "Do whatever he tells you." (John 2:5 NIV) Mary did not try to argue the immensity of her cause, did not plead with Jesus to help the poor couple not lose faith. She simply trusted Christ to do what was right. Does God have the same trust in you to do what is right? Will you be a loving neighbor?
Many who look at Acts 6 give the chapter the wrong emphasis. They see it as primarily about the institution of the deacon ministry. Although that is integral to what is described, it is mostly about how the Christian community considered the “Love your neighbor as yourself” dilemma. Because of the violent persecution the early Church faced and the way it expanded, there were a vast number of Christian widows who did not have enough money to even buy food. Many of the widows were left without any family members to help them so the Church began to provide for them. However, as we often see in our world, certain types of people are more loved and valued than others. In this case it was the Jewish Christian widows who got more help than the non-Jewish Christian widows. In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. (Acts 6:1 NIV) All the widows needed the Church to get them through the crisis though and so the non-Jewish Christian widows went to the Apostles and pleaded for help. Rather than declaring that this matter was not their problem, the Apostles and the other leaders in the Church selected seven men to be in charge of making sure that all the Christian widows had enough to eat, whether they were Jewish or not. This was of course the precise way Jesus responded to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” “You are the neighbor!” The Church saw a specific need, widows without food, and they did something practical to meet that need. They were neighbors who loved.
You have a very important question to ask yourself. Are you a neighbor who loves? Depending upon how you answer, a second question comes. “What does that have to do with me”? It is strange to think that God has entrusted so many people who need a neighbor who loves to you. The other day I was talking to a teacher who was obviously stressing over a meeting she was going to have with a parent and the principal. What does a neighbor who loves do in that situation? You come across someone who has anxiety attacks. What does a neighbor who loves in that situation do? There are dishes in the sink and your mom is busy working on dinner. What does a neighbor who loves do? A co-worker just got chewed out by her supervisor. What does a neighbor who loves do? Someone you know is in the hospital. What does a neighbor who loves do? Across the street a young mother has just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. What does a neighbor who loves do? Your sister-in-law just started drinking heavily and the family is blaming her for her marriage. What does a neighbor who loves do? The question for you and me is never, “Who is my neighbor?” It always is, “Am I a neighbor who loves?” How we answer that question clearly has an eternal ramification!