Who is My Neighbor?

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, a “scholar of the law” asks Jesus what he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus turns the question back on the scholar, asking him how he reads what is written in the law. The scholar replies, “You shall love the Lord your God with all you heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all you mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus affirms that this is the answer to the scholar’s question: “do this and you will live.”

What must I do to inherit eternal life? No long list of rules. No complicated instruction sheet. No elaborate set of qualifications. Just love. Love God. Love your neighbor. It really is quite simple.

But there is a catch, and our scholar of the law had one more question for Jesus: just who is my neighbor. You can almost hear him thinking, if neighbor just means my friends who live down the road or next door, the people I like to have a drink with in the evening or gossip with in the afternoon, I’m golden.

But it is not quite that simple. Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Jesus liked to use the Samaritans when he wanted to make a point, becuase NOBODY liked the Samaritans.) A man falls vicim to theives, who leave him stripped, beaten and half-dead. As he is lying on the road, a priest passes by, and continues on his way without helping the man. A Levite comes by and does the same. Finally, a Samaritan traveler comes upon the man and is filled with compassion and helps him (really goes out of his way to get him to a place where he can be cared for). Who was neighbor to the victim? Not a tough question if you are listening to the story. The Samaritan.

Loving neighbor for Jesus means not just loving those it is easy for us to love because we like them or because they are part of “our group.” It means an inclusive love that reaches out to everyone. The love that Jesus displayed. And that love takes a little more work. (Well, OK, actually it takes a lot more work.)

I end my prayer with this passage with the line from a song I love, a line I pray almost every day: Open my heart, Lord, help me to love like you.