“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” It’s a catchy little jingle, eh? Did you know that Barry Manilow wrote that for State Farm back in 1971? What this slogan implies is that people can have certain qualities that make them a good neighbor. What qualities make a person a good neighbor? Jesus gave meaning for the word, but probably broader than you might think. Consider the significance between the meanings of the word neighbor as a noun and as a verb.
The Good Samaritan is probably one of the most widely recognized Bible stories. When we hear it used in newscasts, the stories surrounding it usually give us a warm and fuzzy feeling. But what was Jesus really trying to teach when He told that story? Was He encouraging us to do random acts of kindness or was He implying something more?
Going to the Scriptures to find answers is the right place (Luke 10:25–28)
In Luke 10:25–28, we meet a lawyer. The title lawyer indicates that he was an expert in the law. In particular, this lawyer was a student of the Mosaic Law. We don’t know his name, but what we know is that he comes to Jesus with a question to test Jesus’ understanding of the law, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (v.25; cf. Deuteronomy 6:16).
Jesus does not give an answer; instead He deflects the lawyer back to the Scriptures. Jesus knew the lawyer knew the answer, since the man spent his entire life searching the law for answers. Jesus simply wanted to hear from his own lips what his understanding of the law said about eternal life.
After the lawyer answers correctly, with a clip on his shoulder he asks Jesus another question. This time his question reveals the condition of his heart, “And who is my neighbor?” (v.25). It’s already clear the lawyer is trying to test Jesus (cf. 7:30), not learn from Him. Also, he is trying to justify himself before men by asking smart questions to appear “wise and understanding” to those listening (cf. 10:21).
The lawyer does what is wise even though he doesn’t acknowledge it. By coming to Jesus, he is coming to the One who authored the law. Jesus understands the law in its purest form. Jesus not only affirmed the law (v.26), He brings a clearer understanding and application to it. Jesus desired the lawyer to see the purpose of the law pointed to his need of Jesus.
Where do you run when you need answers? Do you search on Google or Wikipedia? Do you reference the newest self-help book or horoscope? Do you seek the advice of a friend or family member? Do you come to God in prayer? There are many places people run for answers. If Jesus went to the Scriptures, how much more should you?
Asking who qualifies as my neighbor is the wrong question (Luke 10:29–35)
What’s the lawyer really asking? He’s trying to exclude responsibility for others by making some people “non-neighbors.” It’s like he’s saying, “Who deserves to receive my kindness?” His religious and social status has clouded his understanding of his own kindness. Though smart, he’s super insensitive. A more appropriate question would’ve been, “Jesus, how can I be a loving neighbor?”
Since the lawyer does not understand, Jesus will help him understand by telling a story of a man robbed, beaten and left to die. As the story goes three men walk down the same road where the man is laying, a priest and a Levite “pass by” the man, but a Samaritan stops and has compassion on the man. Like a good neighbor, the Samaritan is there.
This story would have seriously challenged the worldview of the lawyer. Jesus’ use of a Samaritan as the hero would be quite a shock to His listeners because of the longstanding hatred between Jews and Samaritans. Culturally, it would have been unthinkable for a Samaritan to help a Jew (cf. John 4:4, 9; 8:48). Not only does the Samaritan help, he shows compassion to a neighboring enemy. Thus Jesus makes the point that to love one’s neighbor involves showing care and compassion even to those with whom one would not normally have any relationship (cf. 6:27, 35).
Boundaries exist between the Jews and Samaritans (vs.30–33). And Jesus intentionally expands “neighbor” to mean more than people like us who live near to us. He says they are people who we consider enemies who live on the other side of the tracks. It’s not so much who our neighbor is, but how we are demonstrating concern for neighbors (vs.34–35). Jesus eliminates any excuse not to take care of a neighbor.
Being a merciful neighbor is the right action (Luke 10:36–37)
With the story told, Jesus asks the lawyer ,”Which of the three men was the neighborliest (v.36)?” The answer of course was obvious.
Jesus’ story forced the lawyer to reconsider the condition of his heart. It forced him to compare the actions he considered righteous with those he considered unrighteous. The story reveal how far his interpretation of the law had moved from the law’s true meaning. God gave the law to encourage His people to love Him and others,
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-9; cf. Isaiah 49:6)
The command to love others is a continuation of loving God. Jesus is concerned that we are to be merciful neighbors to those across the street and across the globe because He desires all to see His love and mercy through us.
Jesus’ last statement is the most challenging, “Go and do likewise,” (v.37; cf. 1 John 3:16-18), but the promise He gives earlier is most encouraging, “Do this and you will live [eternally].” (v.28) The way we love one another reflects the way we love God. Who is the neighbor you have difficulty showing mercy and love? Is he a Muslim, a criminal, a beggar, or a homosexual? How will you act neighborly, showing the compassion of Christ? Like a good neighbor, will you be there?