Who is my Neighbor?
Who is my Neighbor?
Words of Faith 8-3-18
Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2018
Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL
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As Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem, the questioning began. The Pharisees and Teachers of the law began to test Jesus more and more. Jesus used the testing as an opportunity to teach and challenge those who listen to make a verdict. It is a rich place to listen.
Luke 10:25 37
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
 "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read 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.'"
 "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
 In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
 "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
 The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem when a question came from an expert in matters of the law. We get to see Jesus in action as a teaching Rabbi and we gain a power packed message. It began with a question and answer session that was common in all Jewish teaching.
"Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read 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.'"
"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
"And who is my neighbor?" This is one of the biggest questions in Judaism. The great command of God was clear. Love God and love your neighbor. But who is my neighbor? In the time of Jesus they would ask-- Do I love the Roman oppressor? Do I love the pagan who mocks the law of God? It is a significant issue.
I receive a weekly mailing of teachings from an Orthodox Hassidic Rabbi. The mailing is called the Chassidim. In the title of the teaching is the theme, a sort of focus point, that says: Love God-- Love Your Fellow Jew. This is the way that much of Orthodox Judaism has chosen to answer the question of neighbor to this day. The question is still with us. What did God mean? How big is the circle that one calls neighbor? It was sort of stunning for me to realize that a huge part of Judaism does not regard it obligatory to love anyone but the fellow Jew. That is the definition of neighbor.
We know that Jesus had some radical views on love. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Matthew 5:43-47).
Here Jesus was asked: How big is the circle called "neighbor"? To answer He told a story which powerfully illustrated God's view of neighbor. A man, a Jew, was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. This is road 17 miles long and winds treacherously through the mountains from a point hundreds of feet below sea level to Mount Zion some 2500 feet above sea level. It was a hard and dangerous journey. The Jewish traveler was robbed and left for dead.
Two fellow Jews came along, a priest and a Levite. Neither one helped. We might be tempted to think that they were on their way to do a religious function and that this would have excused them. After all, Priests were responsible for sacrifices and Levites for the maintenance and care of the Temple and its ministry. They were required to be ritually pure if they were on their way to serve and touching a dead person would render them unclean. But Luke wants us to be sure and understand that this was NOT the case. Luke points out that the priest was going DOWN the road. This means the priest was going away from Jerusalem. He had just finished serving God. The Levite so too was traveling down the road. We also know that Levites and Priests traveled in groups to serve in Jerusalem. But traveled alone when going home. These guys were eager to get home and nothing more. They showed little benefit for having been at church.
No, it was an unlikely person who stopped to help, a Samaritan. The Samaritan bound up the wounds and made provision for a place of healing. The question: Now who was truly acting as a neighbor to the Jew, the religious friends who are too religious to help, or the Samaritan? Of course the one who helped. Go and do likewise.
We will look at this further but it is sufficient to begin with the question. Who is my neighbor? Is God calling us to look and love beyond the circles to which we are accustomed?
Father God, give me grace to look beyond the barriers of culture and religion and love those who are different from me. Teach me to love even enemies and pray for those who persecute me. In Jesus' name.