If you find this meaningful, please consider sending an offering directly to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 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.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Turning the Turned Question
In this conversation with a lawyer, Jesus did something that would be easy to miss. You see, before he started one of his best-known parables, this scribe had not only asked a question to which Jesus responded with another question, he offered an answer that encapsulated what was at the center of the law, that we’re called to love God and neighbor. Of course, since he was a lawyer, we’d expect him to know the right answer. I mean, that was his job. But then, according to Luke, “but wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” In other words, he turned question. And this prompted Jesus to tell the story of the Good Samaritan, a parable about how an outcast demonstrated great kindness to a foreigner when those who were most religious refused. And when he’d finished, Jesus asked, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ [The lawyer] said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” You see, Jesus turned the turned question, moving the lawyer from thinking about how he could limit his love to how he might be a neighbor to all.
And I think that’s important for us to hear. A lot of Christians seem to look for ways to limit their compassion, you know, to the native born and to their Christian brothers and sisters and to members of their particular congregation. They appear to feel justified in giving special breaks and providing special services to those most like them, because they can define them as neighbors, while neglecting others, that is until the outsiders decide to move onto our block. But maybe we’re looking at it the wrong way. Just like Jesus shifted the focus of the lawyer, maybe we need to spend our time considering how we might become a better, a kinder, a more compassionate neighbor ourselves.