Jesus illustrates who are our neighbors whom we are to love in several ways. First, he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan[Luke 10:25-37] to illustrate the neighbor as one who needs help. As He tells an expert in the law how to inherit eternal life, Jesus replied that we are to love God with all of ourselves and to love our neighbor as ourselves. He goes on in the parable to explain who our neighbor is – someone in need.
The second way He defines neighbor is in the people he helps in his travels throughout the region. They are the poor, the excluded, the lame, the blind, the deaf, the lepers, those with demons, a woman who is bleeding, the hated—tax collectors and prostitutes. These are the people He heals, He casts demons from, He asks what they want, He cares for them. He also heals a Roman Centurion’s servant and the Samaritan woman’s daughter, both non-Jews. He is a good neighbor to all He meets. He calls out the hypocrites, the leaders of the temple who care only about following the letter of the law, showing how wonderful they are, and forgetting about love as the central issue of the law in the needs of the people they serve [See Matthew 23}.
He is saying and demonstrating that we should be good neighbors to all in need, to welcome them. To show mercy to them. To help them as we can. To listen to them. To love them. Jesus highlighted all those who are needy and told us to be their good and helpful neighbor, including Samaritans, Romans, and others who were not liked by the Israelites at the time.
A third way He talked about neighbors was to say that those who helped those in need in His name were helping Him:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” And Jesus went on to say, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. [Matthew 25:35ff]
Those who did not respond to the needs of others, who did not see Jesus in them, and who refused to serve them, they would be rejected. Both those who helped and those who didn’t asked Jesus about that. And he answered, “Truly, I tell you, whatever you did (or did not do) for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
He is asking us today to consider who is rejected, needy, excluded today. He would meet the Latinos, the Blacks, the Native Americans, the Asians, the immigrants. He would be with the poor, not blaming them for their condition, but asking what they need. He would be hanging out with the homeless, getting to know them, seeing how he could help. He would be in the midst of the LGBTQ community today, with the Muslim. He would be with the people in need whoever they are.
And everywhere He went He would be showing love indiscriminately, caring for the people he encountered, being patient with them, hearing their stories, asking what they need, praying for them, valuing them. For whether we acknowledge it or not, all human beings are created in the image of God. And today, that love would be just as attractive to crowds of people as it was in 1st century Palestine.
I have this picture of Jesus pouring out His love indiscriminately wherever He went. Are we expressing God’s love in the same way? When will showing love and mercy be more important than protecting ourselves? When will we give away our lives in the service of others? When will we meet the needs of all the people around us?
It is the clear call of Jesus to help those in need. Who is your neighbor? Do you see his/her needs clearly? It is not just the physical needs that Jesus refers to. It is the spiritual needs, mental needs, the emotional needs and the physical ones, too. To help one’s neighbor is to express love in this world. To help anyone who needs help is to indiscriminately love. What is God calling you to do? What people does He want you to help? And what gift or grace or aspect of love and forgiveness does He want you to offer?
Questions to ponder over the week: How is God calling you to help your neighbor? How does God define your neighbor? And your purpose enacted for your neighbor? Are you all in or holding back?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who help our neighbors as God call us to do. May we value their lives as much as our own. May we show them nothing but love and compassion and mercy and justice.
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- I am giving away a 10-week journaling guide to Jesus’s Two Great Commandments. If you are interested, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send it to you, free of charge.
- My latest books, “Called to Help the Poor and Needy” and “A Study Guide to the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount” are now in bookstores and on line. The first is about the more than 2,000 verses in the Bible which detail God’s instructions for caring for those in need. The second is a journaling/pondering guide to Jesus’s most complete sermon.