25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" 27He 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." 28And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 30Jesus 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. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.34He 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. 35The 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.'36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" 37He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
If we take our Bibles seriously there are scary passages in our Bibles. The scary element has nothing to do with ghosts or demons or catastrophes. The scary element has everything to do with whether we apply what we read.
One frightening passage occurs about three quarters way through the Lord's Prayer: "... And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors ..." (Matthew 6:12) This simple word "as" or in the Greek hos ties our forgiveness from God to our forgiveness of others. Our natural minds want to separate the two: let's have our forgiveness from God but let's make our forgiveness of others optional. The Bible makes this simple separation difficult and hence makes it uncomfortable and scary for us.
The scary part in the passage above is the answer to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" A lawyer (see, even in the Bible lawyers look bad ... sorry TY, JY, JC, YS, and JY [initials to protect the identity of our lawyers. Am I missing anyone?]) asks Jesus, smugly probably, "And who is my neighbor [that I should love]?"
As his habit, Jesus tells a story to answer the question.
You are familiar with this story. Man maltreated, left on the side of the road to die. The ones you expect to help out the poor man -- the religious types (a priest, a Levite) -- do not even lift one holy finger. But the one you least expect, the hated Samaritan (for Samaritans and Jews were neighboring enemies), is the one who actually does something merciful, loving, and generous.
Jesus turns the table and asks the lawyer, who was the neighbor to the man left to die? At this point your head should spin a little. Recall that the question was, "who is my neighbor?" The expected answer should have come in the form of, this one or that one or the one in trouble or the one in need. But the answer does not come in any of these. Jesus switches the terms by asking, who was the neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? (For Jesus, it seems, being a neighbor is a reciprocal relationship: a neighbor can receive mercy; a neighbor can give mercy.) Furthermore, being a neighbor is shown by action. It is not necessarily the ones who live to the left and right of you. Certainly they can be. Being a neighbor is not limited to local geography or familiarity. Being a neighbor is showing mercy or love to anyone in need. In Jesus' terms, being a neighbor is the same as loving a neighbor. You can see that switch as well.
Jesus is one tricky rabbi, one smart teacher, who cannot be outwitted. You have to be very careful with Him. But more than being careful, you have to stay away from Him if you want to live a comfortable, safe life. Getting close to Him means having your views and attitudes challenged. Taking Him seriously means entering into a scary zone of living your life based on God's love and mercy. And who wants that?
Let's pray: Lord Jesus, at the expense of our comfort, we draw near to You. As we draw near to you, we realize the way we think and live may not be the way You want us to think and live. Such a change in our thinking and living is called conversion. Despite our discomfort, we want to be converted. We want You to define what it means to love God and to love our neighbor, these greatest of commandments. We want to be fully converted to You knowing that as we give up our worldly comfort we'll receive true comfort that comes from living fully in You. Thank you. In Your Name, Amen.