Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. "Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?"
He answered, "What's written in God's Law? How do you interpret it?"
He said, "That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself."
"Good answer!" said Jesus. "Do it and you'll live."
Looking for a loophole, he asked, "And just how would you define 'neighbor'?"
Jesus answered by telling a story. "There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
"A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man's condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I'll pay you on my way back.'
"What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?"
"The one who treated him kindly," the religion scholar responded.
Jesus said, "Go and do the same."
There are two parables or stories that Jesus tells that have been stuck like a splinter in my mind for the last couple of years. The first is the parable of the prodigal son and the second is this one. I don’t seem to be able to escape them. They both feel so timely and timeless. There seems to be a never ending application of their truths in my life.
Reading through this again this morning reminds me that neighbor love in some ways has little to do with where you physically live. The Samaritan wasn’t the beaten man’s physical neighbor. Nor was he the man’s ethnic neighbor. Most likely, he was also not the man’s political neighbor. If anything, he was the man’s enemy in most of these things. Yet, he was moved by compassion to help the man.
The good religious people who were in all those ways, save physical, were the man’s neighbor and they did not have compassion for the man.
I really like the way that the Message translates this line, "What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?" Did you catch the key word? I think the key word is, “became.”
Becoming a neighbor is a choice that we make. We can become a neighbor by being moved with compassion to practice kindness. Becoming a neighbor I don’t think is a natural default, even with those whom we live physically near.
Too often when bad things happen to those around us our first response is, “They probably deserved it.” Why do we think this way? Because often times these are the same people that we feel most wounded by for some reason. There are a myriad of reasons to not let our hearts go out to people. The Samaritan in this story chose compassion.
Every day I am faced with a decision in every interaction with people I come into contact with. Will I choose to become a neighbor or will choose to not be? Will I choose compassion or a hard heart?
What will you choose?