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Who is my neighbor?

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

In my recent meditations on Luke's Gospel chapter 10, I have been considering Jesus' famous parable of the Good Samaritan. It seems apparent to me from the parable that a person's actions are more important that a person's confessions when we want to understand who we really are. We may confess the appropriate creeds but if we don't live as Christians, the creeds mean virtually nothing. I have been trying to appropriate the parable of the Good Samaritan in terms of my own context. Would this be the parable of the good Mormon or the good Muslim? It could be. Samaritans were considered compromised and unholy. They were the false "children of God". But in this parable, the Samaritan is the one depicted as keeping the Torah! What is going on here? Luke tells us that a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. This isn't a simple question about ethics. This is a provocative question intended to get Jesus into trouble. The question is this: "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit the life of the age to come?" Luke 10:25 This is a standard first century Jewish question. The Jews of the first century wanted to know how they could tell in the present who was going to be vindicated in the future as being true children of Abraham who will inherit the promises. This is very much a kin to us asking "Who is a true Christian?" Jesus knows that the question is a trap intended to portray Him as a false teacher who "leads the people astray" (John 7:12), and so He responds by asking the lawyer for his position on the matter. The Lawyer answers with the standard response of the day: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." Luke 10:27. Jesus responds, in effect, "I have no problem with that." But the lawyer is not content to leave it at that. The lawyer smells blood and he wants to push the point with Jesus in order to smoke out the heresy that he believes exists. "And who is my neighbor?" asks the lawyer. Jesus has been associating with tax collectors and prostitutes and other company who would not usually be considered covenant members in good standing. To the lawyer, these folks were outside of those who would inherit the life of the coming age. Jesus had even healed the slave of a Roman Centurion and had declared that the Centurion had more faith than anyone that He had found within Israel. Surely, the Centurion did not stand to inherit the promises made to Abraham, did he?! The lawyer wants to know, "Whom exactly are you talking about when you say that we are to love our 'neighbors'?" I think that the lawyer would have only considered covenant members in good standing to be "neighbors". Everyone else would have been considered under God's judgment and enemies of the children of God. The way Jesus has been acting has been threatening to undermine this disposition and the lawyer does not like it. Nevertheless, Jesus' parable does effectively undermine the lawyer's disposition so that the lawyer has to admit that the Samaritan in the story is actually the one fulfilling the Torah by loving his neighbor. This is radical and powerful.

Who is My Neighbor?

But does this change the Gospel? Does this mean that what we put our faith in doesn't matter and we simply need to be nice or good people? Not at all. Jesus is not saying that the Samaritan is theologically correct or that the Samaritan does not need God's forgiveness. Jesus is just saying that the Samaritan is the one fulfilling the Torah at this point, in spite of whatever other wrongs things may be in his life. We ought not to get bent out of shape about what this story could mean for our Soteriology (how people get saved). We are still only saved when we acknowledge the truth, including the truth that Jesus is the only way, truth and life. But the Gospel is not a message about how to get to heaven. The Gospel message is announcement about what God was doing and now has done through Jesus: God has become King on earth as He is in Heaven, in and through Jesus. This is what was happening and has happened whether the Samaritan knows it or not. The Gospel doesn't only have get applied when people have knowledge of it. The Gospel is good news. News is about something that has happened. It is not an option that one can take or leave. All this Samaritan really needed was to know what that truth is. What Jesus has demonstrated is that the Samaritan was closer to the Gospel than the Priest and the Levite. Jesus has demonstrated, and the Lawyer asking the questioned has agreed, that the Samaritan in this story fulfilled the Law, and if he has fulfilled the Law, he may very well be in position to benefit from what Jesus was doing and accomplishing more than any of the other supposed Torah observant Jews in the story. But we have not changed the Gospel by recognizing this. Hopefully, we have come to understand the Gospel better. It isn't a timeless message about how to get to heaven. It is good news for ALL who will receive it. God has become King! We need to let earnest Muslims, Mormons, and moralists know that there is a better God than Allah, a better prophet than Joseph Smith, and a new creation instead of a self-help program. But we should not assume that simply because we possess the more accurate creeds, we will benefit from the Gospel. It is not the hearers of the Word, but the doers of the Word who will be justified (Romans 2:13).

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