Who Is My Neighbor?

January 1, 2020

One of the most recognizable parables Jesus told is of the Good Samaritan. What we often forget in recalling this story is the verses right before Jesus tells the story. In Luke 10:29, a lawyer, attempting to justify himself, asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Focusing on the question, “who is my neighbor?” we are often quick to answer from the parable of the Good Samaritan. In response to this question, the lawyer who came to Jesus said, “the one who had mercy on him.” The rightness of the answer is evident in the story, and yet in our daily lives, we often respond more like the priest and the Levite. We pass by those that are hurting, offer more condemnation than mercy, focus on the wounds or current soundings of those that need us more than the person struggling amid them. We are far more likely to lash out at others that have hurt us and others than we are to come along beside them and offer mercy and help.  

Our actions are often a result of our feelings or our thoughts. When we look at the world, we can see a world that has embraced the ideology of letting feelings guide actions and thoughts. The reality for most Christians is no different. We are often quick to anger, speak, and show emotions that overrule God’s Kingdom concepts. 

The question is often, why respond this way? While there are common responses to this question, I think the real reason most Christians get pulled into this cycle of response is we forget Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” 

In our journey, we view things from such a human and worldly perspective that we forget our struggle is not truly against our neighbor or those that hurt us, but against Satan and his forces. For the real child of God, Satan has lost the battle for our eternal life, so he wages war on our witness and our ability to draw others to Christ. It is our witness that is at stake. When we treat others unkindly, feel entitled to better treatment, respond with anger and frustration, and ignore those that are hurting. We damage our witness and create an atmosphere of judgment, retaliation, and lack of grace. If we are expecting things to be fully righted in this world, we are mistaken.

In the Luke 10:25-37 account of Jesus’ interaction with the lawyer who came to talk to him, the two greatest commandments are recounted, “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

I think we often miss the part about loving God with all our minds. Loving God with all our mind means we align our thoughts with thoughts that would please God, so our actions are born out of the thoughts of our mind reflect our love for Him. If Christians were to do this honestly, the effect would be amazing. 

We can get angry about others’ actions, the state of our country, and the current social environment, but truth be told, we have failed. We could not love our neighbor as ourselves; we have failed to align our actions and thoughts with those of God, and we have forgotten why we struggle and with whom we struggle. Your enemy is not your ex-spouse, your ex-friend, your boss, your co-worker, that person down the street that makes your blood boil, the careless commuter that cut you off, the unfriendly customer service person, or many other people we can have a conflict with or have to interact with daily. These people are our neighbors–our opportunity to become a better person, our opportunity to reflect Christ’s love, and our opportunity to be a light in a world of darkness. Will we always get it right? No, but as my daughter’s Taekwondo instructor often says, “Practice makes permanent.” In our daily journey, we are given many Samaritan types of moments, do we ignore the person or situation, cross away from it, become angry or feel entitled? Or do we help our neighbors and know that each time we do the next time will become more natural? We will be a beacon in a dark world.

When we remember, we are not at war with our neighbor or brother, but with “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,” our struggle takes on new meaning. These are battles of eternity, and souls are lost daily because we misunderstand who the enemy truly is that we are fighting. If we are to win others for Christ, we first must accept who we are fighting and realize that our job is to love others, expecting nothing in return and loving them because we love God. It is a difficult task, but one that becomes easier when we do it repeatedly. 

The reality is we do not have to be victims of others’ actions.  We are called to be children of God, responding in a way that reflects Christ. That does not mean we have to stay in toxic situations, accept bad behavior, or put ourselves in harm’s way. It means we need to learn to respond differently by extending grace, praying for those who have wronged others, and showing compassion in that we do not treat others in the same way.

Today, as we go about our lives, we should remember to ask ourselves, are we living, engaging in thoughts and actions that further the Kingdom of God. Or are we engaging in activities that further our agenda and make us feel like we are giving to others what we think they deserve? It isn’t a battle with our neighbor or our brother that we need to wage; it is a battle within ourselves to do what is right, merciful, and loving.