In today’s reading, Jesus gets a big question from a man in the crowd: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”(Luke 10:25)
The man is actually a scribe of the Pharisees, who was supposedly an expert in the law of God. The NASB version calls him a lawyer. So shouldn’t this obviously very educated man be well acquainted with the laws spelled out in scripture? Jesus turns the question back on him. “What does the Law say you must do?” The man answers correctly, quoting both Leviticus 18:18 & Deuteronomy 6:5 respectively: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself”.
He wasn’t asking to genuinely find out the answer, he was asking to put Jesus on the spot and perhaps trap Jesus in his own words. Pretty sneaky, lawyer dude. The man then asks, “Who is my neighbor?” testing Jesus a second time.
Back then, the popular opinion among the Pharisees was that the word “neighbor”, as it appeared in scriptural commandments, only referred to those righteous believers of Israel who followed all the rules, went to temple, and always did the “right thing”. Neither the hated tax collectors, prostitutes, nor any other non-Jewish person counted as a neighbor to them, effectively cutting the “wicked” right out of God’s loving Will for the people he created.
Jesus refutes this idea with the parable that follows, sometimes dubbed “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:30-37), meaning that ALL people are to be considered neighbors regardless of religion, bank account balance, appearance, hair style, occupation, social standing, etc.
Back then the Samaritans and Jews were about as opposed in everything as you could get. Jews weren’t allowed to eat with, or even touch a Samaritan, lest they be defiled and unable to take part in temple rituals. Jesus’s suggestion was counter-cultural and provocative. And yet, to love a neighbor – any old person – was not only God’s command, it is the greatest command in all of God’s Word, equal to loving god with you heart, soul, and strength. Whoa.
This reminds me of a certain hate group that claims to preach God’s truth, while simultaneously protesting military funerals and wielding signs with absolute lies scrawled across. God doesn’t hate. That’s kinda his thing. The John MacArthur’s Study bible puts it perfectly: “Godly hatred of sin (see Psalm 139:21,22) is an abhorrence of all that is corrupt and base. It is not a spiteful, personal loathing of individuals.” (The Macarthur Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006. Print.)
So who are your neighbors? They are all around you. People you like, dislike, don’t know very well, and never met. They are all the exact same as you. Just flesh and blood, equally as loved by God, with souls thirsty for a Savior and a purpose. Love them. And love God.
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