Neighbors… Got one (or more)? How do you feel about them? …Are they good neighbors? Bad neighbors? Irresponsible neighbors? Kind neighbors? Do you even know your neighbors? Or perhaps you wish you had different neighbors? Oh, and I can’t leave this one out… How do you feel about their dog?
Defining a “neighbor” is kind of a slippery task. Is it just the person living next door to you or in an adjoining apartment? Perhaps in your HOA? In fact, most of the definitions in Webster’s dictionary won’t work for the way Jesus used the word “neighbor!”
Jesus had been asked by an authority in religious matters, “Teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (It was kind of a cynical, setup question designed to trip Jesus up.) Jesus reversed the question and asked him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
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 (there’s that word) as yourself.”
Jesus told him, “Do that, and you will live.”
The authority in religious matters, wasn’t satisfied – he apparently wanted to get off the hook on this “neighbor” thing. So he said, “And who is my neighbor?”
And then through a story Jesus told (called a “parable”) we get Jesus’ definition of a “neighbor.”
A man was traveling the dangerous road to Jericho. Robbers attacked the man, beat him, left him nearly dead and stripped him of everything he had. A priest came by and completely avoids getting involved. Another religious leader comes over, at least looks at the guy, and then goes on – apparently feeling that he can’t do anything. But a guy that Jews hated – a “Samaritan” (sometimes called a “dog” by Jews) had compassion, dressed the guys wounds, puts him on his donkey, took him to the inn where he could be cared for, payed his bill and promises to check up on him! (What a guy, eh?)
And then Jesus asked a key question that gives us Jesus’ concept of “neighbor!” He asked the religious leader, “Which of these three, do you think PROVED to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” And he was forced to answer, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Wow! It’s not just the people living in a house or apartment next door, or even in my HOA… A “neighbor” isn’t just the people I like or people who are like me (the ones who go to my church, vote like I do, speak my language, share my values, or have skin my color). Jesus’ definition embraces ANYONE… that’s right ANYONE… who needs a “neighbor” – anyone who needs kindness, compassion, and help!
And then the clincher… Jesus said, “You go, and do likewise!” Ouch! I need help! Lord help me to “love my neighbor as myself.” Oh Lord, help me to be that kind of person! Work that kind of love into my spiritual DNA and then out in my lifestyle! You feel that way too?