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“And who is my neighbor?” That was the question posed to our Lord Jesus Christ by an expert in the law. His intention was to test the Lord. We all know the answer the Lord gave him, the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10: 30-37). It was not a simple answer, but it is an answer that should cause us to think. It is an answer that should cause us to think about who we have made our neighbor.
The Lord’s command for us is to love our neighbors the same way we love ourselves. It is therefore important for us to know who this neighbor is. Many people have come to believe that their neighbors are the folks living next door. Some others think only the Church members are their neighbors. When we read Jesus’ answer, we find that our neighbors are way more than the folks next door or the brothers and sisters at Church. The lawyer’s question “And who is my neighbor?” seems like a tongue-in-cheek way of belittling the idea of loving our neighbors. It sounded almost like, is that all I needed to do? However, our Lord’s answer, full of divine wisdom, rather than narrow the reach of those we need to love, does expand it. His answer showed that our neighbor does not have to be from the same tribe as us; our neighbor does not necessarily attend the same church we attend; and, our neighbor may not even share the same faith that we share.
While growing up, there was a song we used to sing which, translated, says “To whomever you have the ability to be of assistance, that person is your neighbor”. This means that the neighbor we should love is not limited by our proximity or relationship. Our Lord Jesus Christ was teaching us with that parable that loving a neighbor is much more than just showing compassion to the needy, which is part of it, but that who we do it to also matters. In the Samaritan story, the one that showed love to his neighbor was the Samaritan. The one at the receiving end of the love was a Jew. In those days the Judeans did not think of the Samaritans as good people. They were a set of people that the Judeans looked upon with scorn. They even considered them as foreigners. So, the example our Lord Jesus chose here uses the one that is despised and hated as an example of a neighbor and shows that kin or faith is not a delineator of good neighborliness.
In the last Sunday sermon given by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King jr., in 1968, he alluded to how technology has changed the whole world and has turned the world into a neighborhood. The world has even become more of a neighborhood today than it was in 1968. Rev. King lamented in that sermon that as much as the world has become a neighborhood, those who live in it have not been able to make it a brotherhood. This was referring to the fact that the world had become more of a physical neighborhood where we were not able to love the neighbors in the neighborhood the same way we loved ourselves. We tend to give different kinds of reasons why we do not follow the Lord’s command about our neighbor, much like the Priest and the Levite in the story of the good Samaritan. Rev. King in another of his last messages, talked about the reality of the Jericho road. He said “It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing”. He talked about the possibility that the Priest and the Levite may have been deterred because they wondered if the robbers were still around; or the possibility that the man may have been faking and was just acting like he had been robbed and hurt so as to lure them there for quick and easy seizure. Rev. King concluded that the question in the mind of the priest and the Levite may have been – “”If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”’”
Let it be clear to us that there will be stumbling blocks along the way when we try to extend God’s love to our neighbors. That road will sometimes be a winding and meandering road that is conducive for ambushing. Sometimes your love will not be returned and many times it will be outrightly rejected. The subjects of our love may not be cooperative, and quite often extending love to that neighbor may be at some cost to us. If me must be good neighbors, we must not allow the dangers of our Jericho road to deter us. Always think, if I do not help this neighbor, what will happen to him? May God give us the grace to be the good neighbor.
– Pastor Simbo Odunaiya