On another occasion than today’s text, Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “And who is my neighbor?” replied a clever teacher of the law.
As though to say: “Jesus, this business about loving one’s neighbor is not such an easy thing. Is it the old woman locked away for years in the nursing home? Is it the man with whom I do business? Is it the boy I hire to cut my lawn? Is it my wife, my child, the folks down at the church?”
Perhaps, somewhat relieved, he thinks: “After all, if none of this is completely clear, then I can put practicing this love on hold. As long as I have to agonize over these pious questions, then I can feel like a serious seeker after God – and I can linger on in this uncommitted state indefinitely. Then I don’t have to go home, beg my wife for forgiveness and fix what is broken. Then I don’t have to reach into my wallet to spread the gospel to others who don’t have it, and I don’t have to say anything to a brother or sister who has wandered from the word of God. In short, I don’t have to get involved.”
Jesus answers the man with His famous story of the Good Samaritan. A man gets rolled in the ditch by robbers. A priest, and then a temple staff minister both pass by on the other side, pretending not to see.
“Who is my neighbor?” the man asked. “Wrong question,” says Jesus. “Which of these three was a neighbor to the man…?” Grudgingly or not, the man has to answer: “The one who had mercy on him.”
“Do this and you will live,” says Jesus. But I can’t. I haven’t. I have passed up a thousand opportunities to do the right thing. I have passed by on the other side when I could have dried a tear, shared a burden, said a word of guidance or encouragement to a lost soul, befriended a bullied classmate, or been a neighbor to the one God placed directly in my path. “Go and do likewise.” But I haven’t. And I am ashamed. How wrong to sit and brood on the word of God and never set about doing it!
“Who is my neighbor?” Do you really want the answer? The man answered it plainly: “The one who had mercy on him.” Who is my neighbor? The One who has had mercy on me. There I was, quivering under a load of guilt, assaulted by the dark powers, in such bad shape that nobody else even tried to help. No one else could. They all passed by on the other side. And I couldn’t help myself. But then, down the road came this One who stooped down and looked at me with mercy in His eye. In a great exchange, He bound up my wounds and made my pain His own. He carried it away. Oh, how I love Him. Yet my warmest thought is cold compared to how He has loved me! I want to be like Him who so completely loved me, saved me!
Who is my neighbor? The One who has had mercy on me!