Who is my neighbor?
This question was asked by an “expert in religious law” according to Luke 10:25. This lawyer was the kind of expert you’d want on your team if you were facing a jury and judge. To him, every word was an open invitation to a debate. According to Luke, he came to see Jesus so He would “test him.” So, he posed the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
I might add that this expert had no idea that he was moments away from losing his case. Jesus threw the question back to him and asked, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The expert lawyer chose to quote the bible in his answer: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus was impressed. He said, “You are correct. Do this and you will live.” But the expert in the law had one more card to play. Being a good lawyer who never liked to lose an argument, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
I find it interesting that this man used the Bible as his defense and his answer to Jesus’ response. Throughout my thirty-seven years in ministry, I’ve encountered my share of people looking for the loophole, responding to my direct and uncomfortable questions with the bible as their defense. Please know, in many cases, the people sitting across the desk from me were very sincere. Sometimes they were right. But others enjoyed the idea of catching me off-guard, using my own bible against me, in a way similar to what happened to Jesus and the legal expert.
In my opinion, the bible is not really that difficult to understand. In many ways, it is very straightforward and to-the-point. There are a few mysteries we will never solve this side of heaven, but what we do know is the reality that in the bible, there are plenty of clear directions given.
The great tension of our current spiritual dilemma is holding firm scriptural beliefs about a number of important social, political, cultural, and biblical issues while finding an appropriate and Christlike way to handle them. There are many people in my church and community circles who do not see some things the way I do. I have friends and acquaintances who are agnostic, who see the Bible as just a particular history book, and who think Jesus was just a good man and nothing more.
And yet, we are friends.
We choose not to be defined by our disagreements. We have great mutual respect for each other. We enjoy being together. I consider some of these folks my closest friends. I choose to be the best representation of Jesus in these friendships and connections. My life is anchored in the full gospel of Christ and the inspired words of the scriptures.
Even among the most mature believers, there is serious debate which often leads to very unkind actions. Frankly--prepare yourself for what I’m about to say--there are times I would rather be with my group of friends described above than an argumentative, self-assured believer who has God in a perfectly-described box and an answer for every problem in life.
Don’t get me wrong, I respect and value those doing the hard work of studying God’s word and being true to their convictions. But it seems to me that the more I know about Jesus, the more I study the Bible, the more spiritually mature I become, the more I should be able to love more broadly and deeply.
In my spiritual journey, as I’ve grown in my faith and walk with Jesus, He has stretched me in ways I could have never predicted. I’ve been through spiritual heart surgery which allowed me to love people I’d previously preferred to ignore. I’ve been through spiritual brain surgery which expanded my thinking about the poor, the prisoner, the orphan, and the widow. I’ve been through financial surgery which challenged me to give more than the required 10% and lose the smugness it caused in my life.
But the greatest spiritual surgery has been eye surgery, which has enabled me to look deeper into the eyes of others, to not judge at first glance, to give the benefit of the doubt more often, and to see others who are different than me with compassion instead of judgement.
So, who is my neighbor?
My neighbor is the person I sit with and talk about life with face-to-face, eye-to-eye, and see something I’ve never seen before. Even if I disagree with this person on some subject, I find someone God created, someone Jesus redeemed, and someone who may be in my life to teach me something, even as I may have the chance to show him or her what it means to follow Jesus.
My neighbor is next door, down the street, across town, in another state, or even in another country.
I have found that those who know the most about Jesus have the greatest capacity to be loving and kind, and they seem to have a lot of neighbors.