Sometimes, it is easy for us, being human, to get caught up on who when we should really be more concerned with how. Like, for example, the lawyer attempting to test Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 10. Being familiar with the verses introducing the Parable of the Good Samaritan, you will recall that the lawyer, after asking what he must do to obtain eternal life, asks the Lord “Who is my neighbor?”
Luke 10:25-29 (ESV)
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “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.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus responds by sharing a parable about a man who was robbed, stripped, beaten and left to die. First, a priest walks by, sees him lying on the ground, hurt and wounded, and crosses over to the other side of the narrow street to pass him by, leaving him there to die. Then, a Levite, like the priest before him, seeing the man lying on the ground, crosses over to the other side of the street to avoid helping the dying man. It is worth noting that both the priest and the Levite were returning home to Jericho after completing their temple duties in Jerusalem. Like the lawyer, who was an expert in the Law of Moses, these two men were acquainted with the teachings of God. And like the lawyer, they did not fully comprehend how to practice the things God taught. They were focused on “who,” rather than “how.”
Luke 10:30-32 (ESV)
30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
When we read the words “Now by chance” we should recognize immediately that this is used as a storytelling technique because we know with God, nothing happens by chance. Genesis 1:1 does not say “In the beginning, by chance, God created the Heavens and the Earth.” While it may be hard to comprehend and fully understand, nothing in the natural world happens by chance, but rather by God’s authority. He who spoke light into being, speaks life into beings. Through Him, everything has been made, and nothing has been made that was not made through Him.
The priest and the Levite left the robbed man, likely a fellow member of the Jewish tradition, lying on the side of the road to die. They did not lift a finger to help him. Whoever they saw him as, they failed to see him as their neighbor.
Along comes a Samaritan. It is important to recall back in that day, and in that time, Samaritans were viewed as less than human. Samaritans were considered to be the least of all the lost. The Samaritan would have had every reason not to help the dying Jewish man. Yet, he did. Scripture says, just like Christ did with us, the Samaritan saw the man and showed him compassion. Just like Christ did with us, the Samaritan healed the man’s wounds, pulled him close to him, helped him up and onto his mule, and took him to a safe place and left him in good hands. The Samaritan, just like Jesus did for us, paid the price on the man’s behalf, reassuring the Innkeeper that one day he would return, just like Jesus promised to one day come back for us.
Luke 10:33-35 (ESV)
33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’
Jesus closes with a question of his own, followed by an instruction.
Luke 10:36-37 (ESV)
36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
Through telling this parable, Jesus teaches us it is not about “who,” but “how’ that matters. As Christians imitating Christ, we need to focus more on demonstrating how to love our neighbors, instead of trying to determine who our neighbor is. Who our neighbor is, is really simple. Our neighbor is anyone other than ourselves. Our neighbor is whoever we encounter today. Our neighbor is not just defined by location, or limited by proximity. Anyone not me is my neighbor. Jesus leaves the audience with an instruction we can apply today: Go and do likewise. Not who, but how.
Modeling Christ, for a lost and dying world, is about how not who. How do I love my neighbor? That is our eternal-minded, supernatural response in our best life now, natural world.
Go in peace, neighbor.