Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Who's My Neighbor?

When one of the “experts in the law” of Jesus’ day tested Jesus, he asked, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” In response, Jesus asked him what was written in the law. The man 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: 25 & 27).  When the expert, in order to justify himself, then asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” (vs. 29), Jesus told the familiar story about the Good Samaritan.
At this time, Samaritans were reviled by Israelites. Most men would walk miles out of their way to avoid stepping foot on Samaritan soil. They were considered lower than dogs and definitely didn’t rank high on any Israelite’s social list. Yet, to illustrate who is your neighbor, Jesus tells the story of the hated Samaritan who helps a poor man who’s been beaten by robbers and left for dead on the side of the road. A priest and a Levite, both highly esteemed men of God, choose to ignore the helpless man, but a hated Samaritan stops to help.

Today, we understand, of course, that our neighbors live next door and across the street. Generally speaking, we get along well with them. Expanding this concept of neighborliness, we try to help the poor by giving our money to worthy causes to provide food and shelter for the less fortunate and to help others in times of natural disasters.

But I wonder if Jesus has even more in mind? He did, after all talk about a reviled Samaritan as the hero of his story about neighbors. Look at some of the people Jesus chose to spend time with. One of his closest disciples was a tax collector. Today we may tell jokes about the IRS, but this sentiment is nothing like the tax collectors in Jesus’ day. These men collected tax money for the Romans! No one wanted to give money to their cruel conquerors! And to make matters worse, many believed the tax collectors raised the fees just to line their own pockets. People in Jesus’ day hated tax collectors.

Who was the first person to see Jesus risen from the dead? Mary Magdalene, a woman who’d been possessed by seven demons. I can’t imagine that this woman had high stature in society. Jesus spent time with other women not highly regarded in his day. He offered his living water to a Samaritan woman of ill repute. When another woman was caught in the very act of adultery, he chose not to follow the law that required an adulteress to be stoned to death. Instead, he said to the men waiting to kill her, “if any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7b). Perhaps loving our neighbors is about more than being nice to those who live near us and giving our money to the less fortunate. Perhaps it has more to do with our attitudes toward others who are different from us. Perhaps I need to examine my ideas of neighborliness.

Father God, reveal to me the Samaritans, the Matthews, and the Mary Magdalene’s in my life. Show me how to love them as I love myself.

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