Monday, November 01, 2004

Who Is My Neighbor?

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"

He answered: "'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, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
Luke 10:25-29

Hmmm...he wanted to justify himself. Sound familiar? What do I have to do in order to get eternal life? What can I do to earn it, to put God in a position where he owes me something?

In response to the guy's question, Jesus does what he often does: he tells a story. A man is headed to Jericho -- the road there is a bad one, filled with danger and dangerous people. The man gets mugged, and the criminals beat him up pretty badly, throwing him in a ditch barely alive.

Something's got to happen. Someone's got to help him or he will die. Who will show him mercy? A Priest? A Levite? A Samaritan?

Most of us know the story by heart; we've known it since we were children. And most of us know that the moral of the story is this: if someone's in trouble, we should help them. Anyone in trouble is supposed to be my neighbor.

Isn't that the moral of the story?

Look how the dialogue ends. Jesus asks,

"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?"

The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
Luke 10:36-37

The neighbor is the one who has mercy. Did you see it, or did you read over it? Who is my neighbor? My neighbor is not the one who needs mercy from me; my neighbor is the one who shows mercy to me.

Well, if I'm not the one who's supposed to show mercy on people who are in trouble, who am I?

I'm the one in the ditch. I'm the helpless one who will die if someone doesn't show mercy on me. That's the point.

All this time, we've thought we could earn eternal life if we just knew the right thing to do. We want so badly to justify ourselves. And all along we were the helpless naked ones who are desperately in need of mercy.