Recently I read a Dallas Willard quote that referenced a question: “Who is my neighbor?” I was immediately drawn to this quote because I asked myself that very question many times in the past. In fact, if someone observed my “theology” even a few years ago, they would likely have seen that I had built many ideas around this question.
I found, over the years, that I had to keep redefining my answer to this question because my “neighborhood” kept getting smaller. When I asked “Who is my neighbor”, I sent myself and others down a path that led to having fewer and fewer neighbors–those who agreed with me or supported my style of Christianity or those who needed to be taught the Bible.
This week I realized someone else asked this same question. And someone rather important to the Christian faith answered it in a remarkable way.
Here is the question:
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 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’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
We know the answer. In reply, Jesus told the famous parable of the good Samaritan. We know that story (Luke 10:25-37). But Jesus’ ending question struck me as I read this story again. I hadn’t noticed how Jesus’ question ties back to the expert Bible teacher’s question in verse 29. Compare Luke 10:29 with Luke 10:36.
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
Notice the contrast! Jesus categorically refused to answer the “expert’s” question. Jesus’ question turns the entire religious view of the expert Bible teacher upside-down. Instead of looking for neighbors to love by teaching the Bible to, Jesus says be a neighbor who shows mercy to the person who comes into your life–whomever that may be and even if it is one of “those people”.
In place of the question “Who is my neighbor?” from the expert Bible teacher, Jesus’ question now rings out in my heart and mind: “Who can I be a neighbor to?”