Jesus is famously asked, “And who is my neighbor?” The one asking the question wanted to rationalize himself and set up boundaries around who deserved his friendship, love and care.
Jesus turns the table on the question though and points out we can only control whether or not we will be a neighbor or not. Who is my neighbor? No, Jesus says, the question is will you be a good neighbor?
Jesus illustrates by telling a story about a man who is hijacked on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. Thieves waiting on the road attack him, rob him and leave him for dead.
A priest and a Levite (a temple minister) both pass by the ailing man, afraid to get involved in someone else’s affairs, and probably for religious reasons.
But, a Samaritan walking the road does stop.
He aids the man, takes him home, cleans him, bandages his wounds, feeds him, and when he is well enough to go home, the Samaritan sends him on his way with some money.
The punchline of the story is Samaritan’s were despised by the Jewish people.
They were them. In the world of us vs. them, the Jewish people had deemed Samaritans them because they were not the right color, not the right religion, and they did not hold the right political viewpoint.
Jesus finishes his story, he asks, “which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law responded, “The one who had mercy on him.” (Luke 10:36-37)
Jesus has this way of messing with our preconceived notions of who is worth of mercy – who is in and who is out.
Jesus is not much for determining value based on others behaviors or beliefs. He wants to know what is going on in our own hearts.
Are we willing to be good neighbors?
If so, we will probably change the way our neighbors respond to us.
Are we willing to pray for and love our enemies?
If so, our perspective might change in the process and our enemy might become our friend.
It’s a really hard truth Jesus asks us to consider, but when we think about it, we know he’s on to something.
In the realm of peacemaking, Jesus models the first step for us in simply being who he is.
The apostle Paul describes it this way in his hymn to Christ, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6–7).
Jesus put himself in the place of the “other.” He became one of us.
He crosses over into the realm of the ones who had set themselves up against God (sinners) and reconciles them to his Father.
Peacemaking requires we see things from the other’s perspective and show them mercy.
We might be able to restore them, reconcile them, and redeem them. Jesus wants to do this, do we?
It is much easier to stay out of the affairs of others. We can come up with all kinds of reasons, especially religious ones, that will justify us in doing just that.
It is just not the example Jesus gave us. To follow Jesus, we might have to rethink how we live in this world.
Jason Smith is the senior pastor at Salida Vineyard Church.