by Linda Rex
I stood in the hallway of the house that was used as the food and clothing pantry I helped to get started back in Iowa, Heavenly Hands. A young woman in her twenties was talking with me and with Jo, the lady who was instrumental in growing our outreach ministry. Tears filled the young woman’s eyes as she told me about standing at the gas pump and finding she had to decide between putting gas in her car so she could go to work, or buying groceries for her children and her to eat that week. Unlike those of some of the visitors to the pantry, hers was a real story of poverty and loss. I found I too had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.
Over the years I learned that what was most meaningful about participating in an outreach ministry such as this was seeing the difference we made in another person’s life, most especially when that person came to see and experience the love of God in a real way in their lives. What compensated most for the negativity of those taking advantage of God’s generosity were the stories of those people whose lives were transformed by the Holy Spirit along with these human gestures of help, prayer and support.
The story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 is most often used as an instructional passage to teach us about the importance of caring for those who are lost, wounded, forsaken and/or ill. This is indeed a meaningful way to look at the passage. But I believe that it is important to consider the small detail of exactly who Jesus wanted us to understand as being our neighbor.
In Luke 10:25-29 we read about a lawyer who was testing Jesus, asking him what he should do to inherit eternal life. (Question to ponder: how does anyone “do” something to inherit something? Doesn’t it come about mostly due to how you are related to someone?) Jesus gave him the standard rabbinical answer—another question: “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” The lawyer answered by repeating the two great commandments, loving God and loving one’s neighbor. Jesus answered him, “Do this correctly, and you will live.” And then he told the story of the man who is left for dead by the side of the road, those who passed him by, and the social outcast, the Samaritan, who tended his wounds, took him to an inn, and paid for his continuing care. This was the true neighbor to the one left on the road. But let’s go a little deeper.
We find elsewhere, in Matthew 25:31-46 that when a person tends to someone who is ill, in prison, or in need, Jesus said that they are actually tending to Christ himself. In many ways, the man left for dead is a true Christ figure in this parable, not just the Good Samaritan. Do we see that in loving and caring for our neighbor, those in need or in trouble, that we are actually caring for Jesus himself? Are we willing to commit ourselves to Jesus as the Good Samaritan did to the man in the road—risking our reputation, sacrificing our time and resources, providing Jesus with care and, paying for his needs and care in a committed and ongoing way?
Taking it even further—perhaps the real question here in regards to inheriting eternal life and in caring for one’s neighbor is the question of relationship: how well and in what way are we related to Jesus Christ? Do we recognize that in him we died and rose again, and are now living a new life in him? For eternal life is this: knowing God and the One whom God sent, Jesus Christ. How well do we know him? Are we willing to lay down our lives and live in newness with him each and every day, and in such a way that we are tending for others who are in the same predicament we are in?
When we see ourselves as the one laying by the side of the road left for dead in commonality with the One who died for us as well as others, we begin to see ourselves and Jesus more clearly for who we truly are and we can begin to have greater, true compassion for others. We find that the power, the will and the heart to care for others comes not from ourselves, but from his compassion that is now ours as we trust him for it. It is Christ in us by the Holy Spirit, who is this neighbor, who cares not only for us but for each person we may encounter, and who gives us the heart and mind to truly care for God and for one another.
To truly and properly love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves requires the very person of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit living his life in us. Because he lives in us and we truly know him in this way, we then have eternal life. This is the correct answer to the lawyer’s question of what to do to inherit eternal life. There is only one way—to be rightly related to God and to truly know him and the One he sent, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, our dearest and closest neighbor.
Holy God, please open our eyes to see you in a new way, as being our nearest and dearest neighbor, and to open our lives and hearts to you completely. Grant that we might truly know you and begin to live in right relationship with you and with others as you intend. Fill us with your love and compassion, we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
“But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” Luke 10:29