“Just then an expert in the law stood up to test [Jesus], saying, ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘What is written in the law?’ He asked him. ‘How do you read it?’ He answered: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. ‘You’ve answered correctly,’ He told him. ‘Do this and you will live’” (Luke 10:25-28 HCSB).
To Jesus’ reply, the lawyer followed up with the natural question, “And who is my neighbor?” In response, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan.
Have you ever noticed the nature of that question, “Who is my neighbor?” No matter how broad or narrow you make the circle, the question seeks to draw a line and define who’s inside and who’s outside of the line. Who are we obligated to love, and who are we relieved from loving? Jesus, however, turned the lawyer’s question around: “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers” (Luke 10:36)? In other words, it is not for us to define insider and outsider, but rather: We must go be the neighbor.
Jesus drew His inspiration for His teaching from God Himself. He recognized that God does not distinguish in His mercy, and neither can we. “But I tell you, love your enemies … so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44-45). Jesus saw in nature God’s mercy toward all humanity, and He calls upon His followers to imitate God: “Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
But that makes us uncomfortable. We want to believe that God loves us because we’re on the inside. Of course, we want Him to love those like us because they also are inside the line—they are our neighbors. But those who hate us? God must certainly feel differently toward the evil and unrighteous, right? No—not according to Jesus. He sends His sunlight and rain on everyone. His mercy extends to all of humanity without distinction, and we must follow His example.
It’s wonderful to think about how much God loves us, but He loves our enemies the same. He calls us to imitate Him in our mercy toward them. That’s hard. But it’s what we’ve been called to do.
So, who is our neighbor? The person across the street. The foreigner and stranger in our midst. Our worst enemies, and the people who hate us. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).
Father, You send Your sun and rain on us all to show Your great mercy. May we be merciful as You are merciful to everyone. May we demonstrate our love for You by how we love others who are created in Your image. Amen.