Who Is My Neighbor?
Here is one of the most popular parables Jesus ever told. Indeed, in America today we have “Good Samaritan” laws protecting people who try to help others in dangerous situations. In today’s climate of biblical ignorance, it is doubtful most people even know where such laws get their name. But be that as it may, the very title of these laws speaks to the eternal relevance of our Lord’s words and teachings.
So a lawyer stands up to test Jesus. I am amazed at the patience of our Lord who would endure these verbal contests at the mouths of people he created; I’m quite sure no one will be challenging him on Judgment Day. So he asks, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replies to the lawyer, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” putting the question back to him. So the lawyer answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus responds, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” The Apostle Paul said, “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully” (1 Timothy 1:8). Of course, the lawyer can’t do this anymore than we can. And as proof of this, the lawyer, who is aggravated that Jesus turned the tables on him, and “desiring to justify himself,” and for whom the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is obviously meaningless, thinks he’ll get the best of Jesus, asking, “And who is my neighbor?”
The very question itself stands as an indictment on the lawyer, for it is obvious that he wants to limit the number of people who fit that description. This is one reason why the law will never save us, not because there is anything wrong with it (“the law is holy,” Romans 7:12), but because there is so much wrong with us; that is, it is too easily manipulated to suit human sin. So Jesus tells that immortal story in which a hated Samaritan, of all people, helps a wounded stranger, and that after a priest and Levite walk on by. So who was this man’s neighbor? And you can hear the lawyer choke out the words, “The one who showed him mercy,” unwilling to bring himself to say, “The Samaritan.” Jesus answers, “Go and do likewise.”
And so the question comes to us, “Do we follow the law as it is written, or only as we manipulate it, to suit our own prejudices?” So act as one under the law of liberty (that is, grace), and know the freedom of selfless service and a clear conscience (James 2:12).