Who is my neighbor?

Pastor Abraham Johnson

Abraham Johnson

Who is my neighbor?  During the month of May at Emmaus we are going to reflect on this question in our Sunday services.  Who is my neighbor?  How does God hope that I will treat my neighbor?  How might God want me to think about them?

According to the Gospel of Luke, it was a bible expert that once asked Jesus this same question: who is my neighbor?  What this expert was really asking was  who counted as an Israelite and who didn’t.  In other words, who is on our side?  Who is on the other side?  Who does God expect me to treat with self-sacrificial love?  And who can I take off that list?  To have an answer to these questions is awfully helpful in answering other questions too, both in the first century and for us today.   Questions like, who should I be afraid of?  Who should I consider an ‘outsider’?   And perhaps even more to the point, who is my enemy?

In response to the expert’s question, Jesus told one of the most famous stories in human history: the story of the Good Samaritan.  This story takes the expert’s question and flips it upside-down.  It does so in at least two ways.  First, the hero in Jesus’ story is a hated Samaritan.  It was the Samaritan in the story that acted like a true neighbor.  By telling the story in this way Jesus is challenging the boundary markers of who is a neighbor and who is an enemy.  Who deserves my respect?  Who deserves my allegiance?  Who should I help?  Who can I fight?  By making a hated Samaritan the hero of the story, Jesus is challenging the conventional answers of his day to these questions.  We should learn from this.

Second, Jesus turns the expert’s question upside-down by asking a question of his own.  Jesus asks: who in this parable acted like a neighbor?  Rather than discuss who is “in” and who is “out”; rather than define who must be loved and who is optional to love; rather than clarify those who deserves respect and those who do not; rather than any of that, Jesus holds up a mirror and asks something more pointed: What does it look like to treat people with mercy and compassion and with dignity?

So there is a taste of the things we are going to reflect on together in the next few weeks at Emmaus.  I hope you will join us on Sunday!

May God’s Spirit bring you comfort and peace,

~Pastor Abe

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