Who Is My Neighbor?
One of the most popular parables in the Bible is the story of the Good Samaritan. There are hospitals named after this man. His name is synonymous for acts of kindness. To call someone a “Good Samaritan” is to pay them a great compliment. While this parable is popular, it’s often misunderstood.
This morning I’m going to present this story in a different way. It is my hope that you’ll see it in a more meaningful way. Jesus’ reply about inheriting eternal life makes this lawyer or an ‘expert of the law’ nervous. It’s obvious that he was uncomfortable because he tried to find a loophole by asking: “Who is my neighbor?”
He’s trying to defend himself and deflect his responsibility by asking Jesus for a definition of “neighbor.” He’s hoping to be ‘acquitted’ on a technicality in the Law. You see, there was something going on back then that most don’t know about today. The hot topic of that day, was really about just this question…“Who is my neighbor?”
Most Jews interpreted “neighbor,” as “one who is near” or another Jew…but not all of them felt that way…especially when Jesus began to accept and heal both the Jews and the Gentiles. There was even a small community, Qumran, that refused anyone who did not believed exactly like them. So this lawyer wants Jesus to settle the argument of the day. This lawyer wanted neighbors to be Jews with Jews and Gentiles with Gentiles. So since Jesus was a Jew…he thought that He would defend and conform to the Jewish ways.
People do this all the time. They try to reduce God…to fit their definition. They think they can justify their ways by lowering God’s standards. They try to reduce God’s entrance requirements to Heaven by inserting ‘good works’ or being a ‘good person’ rather than going through His Son.
But Jesus knows all, so He doesn’t directly answer the question of “Who is my neighbor” but instead He tells a parable. Most believe this simple story is about being kind but it’s actually much deeper than that. This story is designed to show each of us how sinful and selfish we really are and that going to heaven isn’t through doing good works but through His Son.
There are 2 points to this parable…one for the believer and the other for the non-believer. In verses 36-37, Jesus speaks to the religious man or the believer: “So which of these three do you think was a neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” The expert in the law replied, “He who showed mercy on him.” Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”
The real question implied here to the believer isn’t “Who is my neighbor” but rather, “Am I being neighborly to everyone, even my enemies?” The lawyer put the emphasis on “the other person” and was asking if they were ‘worthy’ of his love and kindness. But Jesus put the emphasis on “the one” who does the loving and shows the kindness.
The lawyer wanted a definition of “neighbor” so he’d know who he “had” to help. But Jesus turned it around to ask, “Whose neighbor am I?” Which focuses on all the suffering people around me.
Now did you notice the priest “by chance” was just going down the road when he saw the man in need. I don’t believe in coincidence or “luck.” God has a plan and things happen for a reason. The Bible says: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
How many chances for “good works” do we pass up each day? Do you just ‘walk on by’ when God brings someone across your path? Beloved, we must practice acts of kindness and compassion. The Bible says, “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.” (Proverbs 21:13)
When the Samaritan saw the man, he took “pity” on him. The word “pity” in Greek implies a deep hurting or aching and being deeply moved. His emotion led to motion…His compassion lead to action. What he saw…led to sympathy…which led him to service.
Though we cannot be saved by good works, those who have been saved by the blood of Christ will practice good works. Good works are not a condition of salvation but they are certainly the fruit of it.
This world has plenty of pastors, preachers, and priests…but it is short on Good Samaritans.
This week all of us will walk the Jericho road. Sooner or later we’re bound to meet someone in need. Do not ask, “Are they of my religion” or “Do they go to my church?” Do not ask, “Do I know them” or “I wonder what they did?” If they are in need and you can help, then they are your neighbor.
Now for the non-believer, the first question asked was “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This IS the most important question anyone can ask. The purpose of this parable is to show those who think they’re good enough…that in truth, there’s no way to inherit eternal life by just doing good works.
Once upon a time a man fell into a pit and couldn’t get himself out. A sensitive person came along and said, “Oh, I feel for you.” A practical person came along and said, “I knew you were going to fall in sooner or later.” A Pharisee said, “Only bad people fall into a pit.” An optimist said, “Things could be worse” and a pessimist said, “Things will get worse.” But Jesus, seeing the man, took him by the hand and lifted him out of the pit!
In this story, we see the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ever since Eden, the human race has been on a journey away from Jerusalem. One day we were attacked by Satan and left for dead. He robbed us of our dignity and stripped us of our righteousness.
We couldn’t help ourselves and our goodness left us on the side of the road. Then along came the Good Samaritan Himself—the Lord Jesus Christ. He came to us in compassion and bound our wounds, He carried us to safety, He paid our debt, and He guaranteed our future. He has shown mercy to us when we were left for dead beside the road of life.
Has this old world discarded you? Has it left you lying by the road, wounded and bleeding, forgotten and abandoned? Do you feel hopeless and helpless? Jesus came to help you. All you have to do is take His hand…and let Him lift you up out of that bottomless pit. All you have to do it put your trust in Him. Will you believe in Him today?