“Who is my neighbor?” a lawyer asked Jesus (Luke 10:29).
The lawyer had made the mistake of trying to catch the law’s author contradicting the law by asking how he should inherit eternal life. The author turned the tables by asking the lawyer what he thought the law said.
The lawyer then summarized the law in these two commands: We must love God with all we are (Deuteronomy 6:5) and love our neighbor as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18). The author agreed and said, “Do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28).
But the author’s agreement pricked the lawyer’s conscience. So the lawyer sought to “justify himself” by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). The author answered with the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37).
The Neighbor We Wouldn’t Choose
One observation from this application-rich parable is this: The neighbor we’re called to love is often not one we choose but one God chooses for us. In fact, this neighbor is often not one we would have chosen had not God done the choosing.
The Jew and the Samaritan wouldn’t have chosen the other as his neighbor. What made them neighbors was one man’s unchosen calamity and another man’s chosen compassion, but only in response to an unchosen, inconvenient, time-consuming, work-delaying, expensive need of another.
The shock of the parable is that God expects us to love needy strangers, even foreigners, as neighbors. But if this is true, how much more does he want us to love our actual, immediate neighbors, the ones we have to put up with regularly? Sometimes it is these neighbors we find most difficult to love. As G.K. Chesterton said,
We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbor. . . . [T]he old scriptural language showed so sharp a wisdom when [it] spoke, not of one’s duty towards humanity, but one’s duty towards one’s neighbor. The duty towards humanity may often take the form of some choice which is personal or even pleasurable. . . . But we have to love our neighbor because he is there — a much more alarming reason for a much more serious operation. He is the sample of humanity which is actually given us. (Heretics, chapter 14)
The idea of loving our neighbor is beautiful to think about so long as it remains an idealized, abstract concept. But the concrete reality of loving our neighbor, that all-too-real, exasperating person that we would not have chosen and might prefer to escape, strips the beauty away — or so we’re tempted to think. In truth, the beauty of idealized love is imaginary and the beauty of real love is revealed in the self-dying, unchosen call to love the sinner who “is actually given us.”
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