“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men.” (Luke 18:10-11a NIV)
“But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.” (Luke 10:33 NIV)
“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20 NIV)
JESUS TAUGHT US TO LOVE OUR NEIGHBORS, BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
Oh, sure, we can hear the words and cobble together a respectable answer, something like, “help our neighbor when he or she is in need,” or “watch their house and take in the mail,” or even “transport their child to baseball practice and bring them back.”
There might be more items we can offer, especially if God has placed on our hearts a love for His creation. In that case, we can bake a casserole or help someone take down storm windows, or even pick up a few items while we’re in the grocery store.
Is that what He meant?
Doesn’t anyone who’s halfway decent reach out an occasional helping hand to a neighbor, especially a nice one, who’s friendly and helps us out? Isn’t that what we call “being neighborly”?
If Jesus repeated His command for us to love our neighbors, isn’t there a high probability He meant something else, something more meaningful and deeper, something beyond our reach?
IN OUR TWO PARABLES, Jesus showed us that loving our neighbor means going out of our way to lend a hand, even to someone we might want to avoid.
That might not be pleasant, but Jesus often urged us out of our comfort zones.
Aren’t there commands to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44 NIV), “do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27 NIV), and even this incredible gem, as Jesus, having been flogged and nailed to a Cross, says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NIV).
To wrap up His two parables about good and bad neighbors, Jesus said of the Samaritan’s actions: “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37 NIV); but in the parable of the bad neighbor, illustrated by the Pharisee’s prayer, Jesus said: “I tell you that this man [the tax collector], rather than the other [the Pharisee], went home justified before God” (Luke 18:14a NIV).
In other words, Jesus praised the selfless actions of the despised Samaritan but condemned the self-centered egoism of the highly respected Pharisee.
LET’S UNPACK THOSE PARABLES briefly so that we see clearly just what Jesus meant by His two incredible punch lines.
In the story about the Good Neighbor, or Good Samaritan, Jesus said a traveler was beaten and robbed and left for dead along the road and that two Jewish religious leaders found him, but neither stopped to help. It was a despised foreigner who picked the man up, dressed his wounds, carried him to a nearby inn, and paid for his care.
In the story about the Bad Neighbor, or Pharisee and tax collector, Jesus said the two men were gathered in the Temple to pray. Whereas the religious leader looked to the heavens and self-righteously told God all of his good qualities, the humble tax collector lowered his head and mumbled a few words confessing his sin and asking for God’s mercy.
Matt. 7:28-30 NIV — “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching because he taught as one who had authority and not as their teachers of the law.”
Jesus turned to His listeners, which included Pharisees but also tax collectors, prostitutes, shepherds, farmers, and other common folk, to be like the Samaritan, the Good Neighbor — “Go and do likewise” — but not like the Pharisee, the Bad Neighbor — “I tell you that this man [the tax collector], rather than the other [the Pharisee] went home justified before God.”
IF WE WANT TO UNDERSTAND JESUS’ COMMAND on loving our neighbor, we have to refer to a related account in Matthew (chapter 22:34-40), where Jesus tells a Jewish religious leader that the most important commandment is to love God with our whole being, and that the second commandment, to love our neighbor, “is like the first” (emphasis added).
Swing back to Luke’s account. If Jesus can show the crowd that loving your neighbor — our neighbor — is difficult and often goes well beyond our comfort zone, then it’s no stretch for Him to show us that, like the first commandment, we don’t love God all that much, either.
Keep in mind that the religious leader was a scholar extremely well versed in the Jewish canon — what Christians call the Old Testament — and probably could quote most, if not all, of the Torah, the books compiled and written by Moses.
That means the scholar was well versed with the Book of Leviticus. In Chapter 19, the Lord laid out a clear list of actions the Jews should do and should not do to show love and concern for their neighbor. Leviticus was written some 1,300 years before the scholar’s encounter with Jesus.
THE SCHOLAR KNEW LEVITICUS 19. His question may have been intended to trap Jesus, or it might have been a real question touched by something Jesus said, or maybe the scholar was, for just a moment, responding to Who Jesus Is.
In any case, the Lord used the occasion to expose man’s sinful weakness. What Jesus told us is this: We don’t love our neighbors as ourselves — nor do we love the Lord with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.
Fortunately, Jesus does love us unconditionally, even though we fail to love Him as He commands.
For that, we can be ETERNALLY grateful!
PRAYER: O Holy and Merciful Father, God Almighty, we thank You that You are not like us. You are everlasting; we are finite. You are truthful; we are deceitful. You embody light; we prefer darkness. You are love; we are a jangle of lies, hatred, and evil. Thank You for loving us, for saving us from the punishment we deserve, for lifting us up to glory in Jesus’ Name! Lord, we honor and adore You. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen