Friday, September 28, 2007

And Who Is My Neighbor?

And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

And he said, He that shewed mercy on him
Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
(Luke 10:25-37)

Luke records an incident in the ministry of Jesus where a lawyer (an expert in the law) stood up to Jesus to test Him.

This is very interesting. If the average person is asked about what the general opinion is regarding lawyers, would the response be favorable?

Why are lawyers held in such low esteem? Why do people make jokes about eliminating lawyers? Why?

The answer is that lawyers use the law for their living. They use and manipulate the law in order to achieve an end. They study the law to see what advantage they can find in it, often seeking ways to make excuses for not doing what they already know to be right and good.

Such is the case that Luke records. Everyone knew that Jesus is good. Everyone knew that Jesus spent His entire earthly ministry serving others and proclaiming the Gospel. But this lawyer comes to Jesus with the intention of proving everyone wrong. He came with a question from the Law, to test Jesus.

But Jesus reversed the test. He asked the lawyer, the self-proclaimed expert, to explain the law. When the man answered, Jesus told him that he was right and that he should follow what is right.

This, of course, would not do, for the lawyer stood condemned by his own understanding and explanation of God’s Word. Suddenly the lawyer wanted to justify himself by challenging his own explanation. (Not a very smart move.) But then, his intention was to do as his father did with the woman in the garden, to challenge the Word of God. He demanded of Jesus a better explanation. He demanded, “And who IS my neighbor?”

He thought that he was clever. He thought that he had presented to Jesus an impossible demand. After all, who can possibly love everyone? Who can even claim truly to love anyone? But the real point of the question was to show that he had no one worthy of being counted as neighbor.

But this lawyer was no match for the Master. Jesus knew exactly the false motives of this deceitful man. He recognized the reversal of the intent of the law that this “expert” was attempting. So once again Jesus turned the test right back to the challenger. He gave three examples and asked the “expert” to judge which of the three was neighbor to the needy and hurting man whom they encountered.

Once again the man answered rightly and Jesus said to him, “Go, and do thou likewise.”

Who can argue with that?

Actually, we all do. For the man’s challenge to the Law is true. No one among us can fulfill the intent of the Law. No one except, One, the One who comes to fulfill the Law for us and in us.

This is the key to understanding love. God is love. Love is of God.

When we truly understand this, then we truly understand the intent of God’s Law. When we truly understand this, then we truly understand who our neighbor really is.

Matthew records an account where the Lord Jesus explains this in this way:

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt 25:40)

But like the lawyer, we tend to reverse what this really means. Like the lawyer, we hear what we must do to fulfill the Law and then we begin to squirm.

I’d like to share a recent experience that I had.

Last Thursday evening, at 9:30 P.M. I went to a job site to attempt to deal with a bee hive that was presenting a dangerous situation for the neighborhood and for the work that I needed to do in the tree. My attempt did not go well, and some of the bees that were working to keep the hive’s ventilation effective fell on me and some fell down inside my shirt. NOT GOOD!

On this occasion I did not think to bring my bottle of ammonia with me to treat the stings. So after removing my shirt, shaking the bees free, removing the bees and their stingers from my hand, neck, chest, and ribs, and after gathering my ladder and other tools, I headed to find a store that had ammonia. The third store did have ammonia, and by this time I had only one desire: to apply the medicine to my areas of pain.

But as I exited the store, I saw a man sitting on the curb beside my truck. I have encountered this many times so that I immediately knew that he wanted to con me out of some money. I knew that he would have some sad story by which he would try to convince me to give him money for food or something else. I was not pleased. I was not ready to respond with compassion and charity. I wanted to treat my injuries.

I was right. He began asking for money. He also asked for a cigarette. I told him that I needed to treat my injuries and that I don’t smoke. He kept asking for money and for a cigarette. I told him that I first needed to treat my injuries. He told me how he had just been released from jail. He told me how he had previously been in prison for dealing drugs. He told me lots of sad things.

I offered to buy him a meal at the place across the street. Nope. He wanted chicken.

I loaded his bicycle into the truck and drove to the specific chicken place that he wanted. There’s more, but this is enough for the point.

The point is that I did not want to be loving to this man. But love lives inside me. I did not want to be patient with this man, but patience rules over my soul. I did not want to be charitable and to sacrifice my own lunch money for this man, but charity dwells within me. I did not want to stay up still later that night, but compassion lives in my heart.

You see, I did not look upon this man as my neighbor. I did not see myself as this man’s loving neighbor. Jesus looked upon this man and Jesus loved him and was patient with him and was charitable toward him with deep compassion.

Jesus is the one who comes to be the good neighbor. Jesus is the one who comes to live among us and to do the good that we all need. Jesus is the one who loves, and gives, and cares, without limit. Jesus is the one who enters unloving hearts and fills them with love that overflows to others. Jesus is the one, who having loved the world, works His love in those who are baptized into Him and live in Him. Then, most amazingly of all, He says to us, “Well done.”

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