“But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?'”
Luke 10:29 (NIV)
In school we learn that good communication at least answers the questions who, what, when, where, and why. People need to know these answers at the very least in order to feel well informed and in the loop. They are good questions to answer. Well, it turns out they are pretty good questions to answer in our faith and theology. It is important to know what we belief and why. It is important to know when God calls us or moves in human history. When God calls us into action it is good to know where God is asking us to serve. But the most important question in our faith and theology is arguably WHO.
It is extremely important to know who God is. Who is this God we serve? What are God’s attributes? These are the characteristics that let us know who God is. We need to know Who Jesus is and why we should follow this person’s life and teaching and place all our trust in him. The who question is very, very important to our faith and the practice of our faith.
In the Scripture passage above, Jesus has been asked by an expert in the law what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answers that he must love God with everything and love his neighbor the same way he is loved by God. So the expert pushes Jesus a little further and asks, “Who is my neighbor?” The question of who is very important. He knew who God is. He may have, presumably, even known who his neighbor was. The expert is getting a little snarky with Jesus in order to paint Jesus into a corner and give himself wiggle room with the law. So Jesus tells him a story.
In the story some “experts” in the law, a priest and a Levite, see a man who has been beaten and left for dead. Each of them passed the man by on the other side of the road. These experts in the law and the ways of the temple sacrificial system both fail to help. Perhaps because it would cause them to be ceremonially unclean. Perhaps because helping would jeopardize their social and religious status. But the ones who should know what to do fail to do anything. To them the who didn’t matter as much as their own needs and status.
As the story continues, a Samaritan comes along. The New Living Translation translates verse 33 as “Then a despised Samaritan came along.” This Samaritan might have known a little about the Jewish laws and traditions, but nothing like the experts who had passed by. Despite his lack of knowledge in the law…the Samaritan sees the WHO in need. It says he took pity on him and bandaged his wounds, poured oil on them, and took him to get help. The story Jesus tells the man is one of a despised Samaritan having compassion for another human being and going out of his way to help. It is the story of one person who is willing to help another person who is in need.
So Jesus asks the expert who was this man’s neighbor? Of course, the man says it was the one who had mercy on him (he cannot even bring himself to say the name Samaritan. Jesus responds, “Go and do likewise.” This is the part I cannot wait to share with you this Sunday. I’ll give you a little sneak peak, though. Jesus is telling the expert in the law to put the WHO ahead of the what, when, where, or why! The who is always more important that the rest.
This Sunday we will start a new message series My Neighbor. We will be discussing more about who our neighbor is and how we can be the neighbor Jesus describes. I can’t wait to share this with you Sunday. There are great things coming for St. Andrew’s in 2017 and it’s an exciting time. The best is yet to come. I can’t wait to see you in church!