“And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29b)

The guy sleeps expecting a train

Scripture tells us the man asking Jesus this question was wanting to justify himself (v. 29a).

Most likely, he was looking for Jesus to give him an answer that had a limited category for “neighbors”–and hopefully in that category would be all the people the man was already treating well.

What I’m sure he didn’t expect was Jesus’ response with the parable of the good Samaritan.

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by 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, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii 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.” (Luke 10:30-37, NIV)

In Jesus’ parable, the word “neighbor” exploded the limits society had put on it.  It came to mean anyone who needed help.  Anyone.

Last night, Ben and I were invited over to dear friends’ house.  I’ll call them Tom and Becky here to protect their privacy.  It was easy to see from where our GPS was taking us that they lived on the more dangerous side of town.  When we got to their house, what we learned from them blew us away.

Tom and Becky had moved to this very neighborhood for the purpose of sharing the Gospel of Christ with their neighbors.

I have never, ever thought of selecting a house for the purpose of reaching the neighbors.

Rather than stay inside with their doors locked, they sat out on the porch with us, waving at almost every car that passed by.

As cars passed by, Tom would immediately tell us in a voice full of love, “That’s ____, and he lives ______” followed by a story of how they had made contact with that person and what they were praying for him about.

Although they had stories of the drugs, alcoholism, tragedy, and violence of the neighborhood, they are adamantly unafraid.  They are on mission for God, and confident they are in the right place.

On Sundays, they host church in their home.  Tom is the pastor and Becky serves the afternoon meal.  They invite everyone from the neighborhood to come over and join them.  Many times, Tom has to ask them to leave at 10 p.m. so he can go to bed for work the next day!

When people come to their door asking for money,rather than keeping the shutters down and hiding as I would be tempted to do, Tom and Becky’s habit is to invite them in for dinner.

When new neighbors move in, Becky bakes goodies to welcome them in the neighborhood.  As we were there, Tom was telling us they’d just gotten a new neighbor in a house that had been empty for a long time.  Tom’s face is filled with eagerness as he talks about the new opportunity, as if he’s just found out a movie star is moving next door.

The way Tom and Becky treated their neighbors as they talked about them was so humbling.  Since they constantly see the struggles and addictions of their neighbors, Tom said, “I remind myself every morning, I’m no better than any of them . . . But for the grace of God, I would be that person.”  And they both mean it.  Their hearts are open wide to their neighbors, not closed tightly against those people.

They have a policy of always inviting their neighbors over for dinner before they invite them to church.  Tom and Becky want people to know that they care about who they are and where they are at more than they care about checking off a dutiful “I’ve-invited-you-to-church” box.

Tom said something like, “It’s easy to invite someone to church.  It’s harder to invite them to dinner.”

They are passionate about sharing Christ with their friends, even though it means taking the time to invest in their lives.

Over 2,000 years ago, a man wanting to justify himself asked Jesus,

“And who is my neighbor?” (v. 29b)

I need to ask myself that very question today, but with one important difference.  Rather than trying to justify myself as I ask, I need to be asking so that Christ can transform my hardhearted thinking and explode my view of who are my neighbors.

.               .               .               .               .               .               .               .

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37, NIV)

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