Who Is My Neighbor?
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?” 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. 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.’ 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.” Luke 10:25-37
Jesus’ response to the man’s question was to quote from the Old Testament, “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart and with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.” In response, the man queried, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus then went on to tell the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It is a tale of hatred and love, of bigotry and impartiality, of cruelty and benevolence. It is a parable that is just timely in the Twenty-First Century as it was in Jesus’ own day. In these words, our Lord calls us out of our self-centered attitudes to a life of love for our neighbor, those who are hurting in our midst.
In spite of all of the advances that we have made in our modern world through science and technology, it is shameful that racism and hatred are still so prevalent in communities across our land. Such attitudes are contrary to God’s Word and our Lord’s call to love our neighbor as ourselves. We read in Proverbs, “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9) Lutheran Christians have a long history of speaking out for life in all its forms, from the baby inside a mother’s womb to the sick and dying. We are also called to speak out for all who have been victims of racial oppression in our communities.
However, we are called not simply to speak about love, but actually to love, not just with pious platitudes, but with action. As St. John writes, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him…Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:15, 18)
Many African-Americans in our communities are hurting because of their own experiences with racism and bigotry. The response of Christ’s Church to such hurting people is to show love and mercy to all who suffer injustice and abuse. It is our hope that our congregations can be places of refuge for those who have suffered from any type of oppression or discrimination. There are congregations across our cities and state that actively serve hurting and broken people from all walks of life. There are pastors who serve as police chaplains and others who visit the incarcerated in our prisons. Our Lord’s parable calls us to do more than simply “pass by on the other side,” but to stop and have compassion on those who are hurting by showing them mercy.
The looting and violence that are happening in our communities is not the way of love and mercy. Just as we condemn racism and oppression, we must also speak out against the senseless destruction that has been happening as the sun descends in so many communities. We are thankful for those who serve our communities in law enforcement and as first responders and pray that they would serve honorably and for the common good. We also pray that God would watch over and protect them in their callings, especially as there are those who would seek to do them harm. The solutions for the needs of our community will not ultimately be found in our local, state or federal government. The only one who can bring true healing to our communities is Jesus Christ and He does so through the members of His body as they serve their neighbor in love.
Before we cast any aspersion towards others, we should consider the man who asked Jesus the initial question in Luke 10. He was a lawyer who wondered what he must do to inherit eternal life. After Jesus’ response, Luke notes that man’s follow-up question came as an attempt to justify himself. We, too, have sought to justify ourselves, but sadly, we are sinners who have passed by hurting people on the other side and shown little compassion, mercy and love. But our Lord Jesus Christ came not as the Good Samaritan, but as the One who was beaten and abused so that our heavenly Father would not hold our loveless attitudes against us. It is in His sacrifice on the cross that we find true compassion, mercy and love. We cannot justify ourselves, but our Lord has covered over our sin and shame and only by His Spirit are we enabled us to stop and show compassion, mercy and love to our neighbor. May we love not in word and talk, but in deed and truth.
Prayer – Heavenly Father, God of all concord, it is Your gracious will that Your children on earth live together in harmony and peace. Defeat the plans of all those who would stir up violence and strife, destroy the weapons of those who delight in war and bloodshed, and, according to Your will end all conflicts in the world. Teach us to examine our hearts that we may recognize our own inclination toward envy, malice, hatred and enmity. Help us by Your Word and Spirit, to search our hearts and to root out the evil that would lead to strife and discord, so that our lives may be at peace with all people. Fill us with zeal for the work our Your Church and the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which alone can bring that peace which is beyond all understanding; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Fraternally in Christ,
President Lee Hagan