Lawyer: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
Lawyer: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus: “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
Lawyer: “And who is my neighbor?”
Who is your neighbor? Have you considered that question lately? The back-and-forth exchange above comes from the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Chapter 10 holds two familiar passages of Scripture, one after the other.
First, this exchange, where we hear the familiar command to love God and to love our neighbor. This is followed with the telling of the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus tells the parable in response to the lawyer’s question: “Who is my neighbor?”
In this parable, a man had been robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the side of a road. In short order, three different travelers walked past this dying man. The first two travelers were religious officials. Surely men who made their living through religious service would stop and help him? Not quite. They were quick to pass by, even going over to the opposite side of the road to completely avoid any interaction.
The third traveler to encounter our dying man was a Samaritan. The Samaritan saw our dying man and had compassion. He quickly and willingly gave his time and money to make sure that this man received the care he needed.
Jesus: Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?
Lawyer: The one who showed him mercy.
Jesus: You go, and do likewise.
Jesus chooses each part of His story with intention. A key detail is the identification of the third traveler as a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans despised each other both racially and religiously. They were on opposite sides of all matters, until this moment, as Jesus weaves a different story.
Jesus expertly shows that loving your neighbor is less about who you classify as your neighbor and more about having compassion and mercy on all people you meet, whether or not they fit into your definition of a neighbor. Neighbors are more than just people who live in proximity to you or people you feel comfortable helping. Neighbors, we learn, are all people in all circumstances.
And our response to a neighbor? Jesus tells us to show them mercy.
The definition of ‘mercy’ is as follows:
- compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm,
- an event to be grateful for, especially because its occurrence prevents something unpleasant or provides relief from suffering,
- an act performed out of a desire to relieve suffering; motivated by compassion.
Luke 10 is not the only place that we can learn about mercy throughout Scripture. God’s Word speaks again and again about mercy. Psalm 145:9 reminds us that: “the LORD is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made.”
Who is Your Neighbor?
As a wife and mom, the neighbors I encounter in person the most, who need my compassion and forgiveness day in and day out, are my husband and my two toddlers. But as someone who also uses social media and connects with work colleagues over email and other digital means, my neighbors are in front of me with only the scroll of a finger. I open an app on my phone and am quickly connected to a world full of neighbors in need of compassion and forgiveness.
What is your response to your neighbors in this world? What is your job in this world? You are to show compassion and forgiveness. This compassion and forgiveness is not exclusive to neighbors who share our skin color or political views, for, as Jesus points out, our neighbor is everyone. Jesus’ death and resurrection was good for everyone and brought mercy for everyone. Go, and do likewise.
This month, we are going to work through thirty-one Scripture passages on mercy. Each day of this downloadable calendar will have a short reading and a prompt to discuss or consider.