Jesus wants us to ask ourselves a simple question: “Am I a good neighbor?” But before we try to answer this question, we need to understand how Jesus defines a “good neighbor.” The parable of the good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke can help.
Trying to Stump Jesus
Jesus was once asked by a lawyer, a highly educated religious elite, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). The Bible says the lawyer intended to test Jesus with this question. But it wasn’t a very good test because the Old Testament contains a clear answer. So rather than give a response, Jesus just asks the lawyer what God’s law teaches. The knowledgeable lawyer recites from the book of Deuteronomy, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). The answer to the lawyer’s question is clearly stated in Scripture and he knows it. Jesus says as much, then he tells the man to love God and love his neighbor if he wants eternal life.
The lawyer is a bit embarrassed by how easily Jesus passes his “test” and wants to save face. The text tells us he desired to justify himself, so he asks another question: “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). As he often did, Jesus answers this question with a story.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
Jesus tells a tale about a man from Jerusalem who was traveling to Jericho when a band of robbers attacked him, beat him, stripped him of all his things, then left him for dead. Some time later, a priest comes along the path, but rather than help, he goes to the other side of the road. A Levite, one who would help the priests in their work, reacts the same way when he sees the dying man. He also crosses to the far side of the road and keeps walking. If a priest and a Levite won’t have mercy on this dying man, it seems he has no hope! But this is not the end of the story. A Samaritan traveling down the road comes across the dying man and has compassion. Rather than walking to the other side of the road, he runs to the broken and injured man to bandage and care for his wounds. He lifts him up and places him on his animal, then brings him to an inn where he could recover. The Samaritan goes even further by paying the expenses for the man who had been robbed, agreeing to pay any extra when he comes back.
Jesus finishes the story and asks the lawyer, “Which one of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (Luke 10:36). The lawyer gets the point right away, “The one who showed him mercy,” he replies. Clearly, the only one who was a good neighbor was the Samaritan. Then Jesus ends the discussion by exhorting the lawyer to “go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).
Go, and do Likewise
Jesus’s command is for you and for me. We are to be like the Samaritan. A good neighbor is one who shows mercy, especially to those that are hurting. The majority of us may not regularly find people who have been attacked lying on the side of the road, but that doesn’t mean our neighbors are not hurting. Do we know them well enough to see their pain? Do we love them enough to stop in our tracks, forget ourselves, set aside our plans, and help? Are we willing to sacrifice our resources, with no hope of anything in return, so that they can be healed? Jesus calls us to answer each of these questions with a resounding yes. God’s design for humanity is that we would love one another in this unconditional, self-denying way.
Jesus is a Good Neighbor
Jesus not only taught that we should love our neighbor in this way, he lived out what he commanded. The Son of God sat on his throne in heaven—infinitely more important than any priest, more holy than any Levite—and he saw our pain. Rather than turn a blind eye to our suffering, the Son entered into the world to suffer with us and for us. Jesus did not abandon us, but in mercy came to heal us. He came to address our most grievous wound, the wound of sin. He paid the cost for our cure—not in gold or silver, but with his very own life. His blood was shed for the forgiveness of our sins so that we might be restored to God and one day glorified for all eternity! When Jesus calls us to “go and do likewise,” he doesn’t ask us to do anything that he himself has not already done. And he doesn’t ask us to do anything he will not empower us to do by his mercy.
Are we good neighbors? The answer is probably mixed. Sometimes we are, and sometimes we’re more like the priest and the Levite. But as we reflect on what our neighbor Christ has done for us and pray that he would make us more like him, we will become better neighbors. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to ensure that we will increasingly become good neighbors—neighbors who show mercy to those who are suffering, just as our God has shown mercy to us.