Friday, September 25, 2009

HOWDY, NEIGHBOR!!!


"And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29, NIV)

Of all the stories we maintain from childhood, the story of the Good Samaritan has to rank in the top 10. This parable results from an ongoing effort by the religious elite to trip Jesus up. When the authority is lauded by Christ for stating one of the greatest commands as "Love your neighbor as yourself," (Lev. 19:18) he tries further engagement by asking, "And who is my neighbor?" Subsequently, Jesus proceeds to tell the tale of a robbed and injured Jewish man who is ignored by his kinsmen, but tenderly aided by his enemy.

The vast majority of us can recollect that story and smile in agreement that the Samaritan was the true neighbor because he showed the injured man love and mercy. But it becomes a little less clear when we see its application in our own lives. Who is OUR neighbor?

Perhaps those from older cultures located in Europe or the Middle East can better identify with the contrast of the story. The long-standing hostilities between Serbians and Bosnians in Yugoslavia, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, the people of Pakistan and India all provide clear distinctions of those involved as to who the enemy is. Each situation bitterly duplicates the same type of relationship as that of Jesus' parable.

However, if we take one of those painfully honest looks at ourselves, those we harbor resentment towards become more clear in spite of obvious boundary lines. Who is that Samaritan in your life? The one you have deep philosophical differences with? The one whose lifestyle or decisions are the antithesis of yours? It could be the doctor taking your child's medical care in a direction you don't agree with. It could be the educator or administrator you don't see eye to eye with. It could be acquaintances, friends or family who lack understanding or support when it comes to your child's diagnosis. Whoever it is, do you meet them with avoidance and disdain as the Jewish kinsmen did or do you show them mercy?

Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. That is one of the remarkable behaviors that set us apart from an unbelieving world. He realized that we have no ability to do this on our own. His Spirit alone supplies us with what we need, the power to carry out His commands.

When we do, it not only changes those directly involved, making us more joy-filled and gentle, but it also changes the individuals around us as well. It makes us more attractive to others. Read John, Chapter 4 and discover how a whole village was changed by the love and mercy Jesus showed to just one Samaritan woman. Read Acts 16:22-34 to view how the love and mercy of Paul and Silas toward their jailer led to not only his conversion, but the conversion of his entire family.

Jesus reminded us that if we only love those who love us, then we're no different from the rest of the world. Being a neighbor to those who are not on our top-10-favorite-people list is one of the ways that we can actually be salt and light to a deteriorating, dark world.

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