“But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:29 ESV).
The expert in the law who sought to test Jesus found himself tested instead. By asking Jesus the question, “Who is my neighbor?” perhaps he thought to limit the extent of the law’s demand by limiting those who qualified as his neighbor. This approach failed. Jesus turned the focus from the object of who we are to love, to the subject of what kind of lovers we are to be.
After answering with the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (Luke 10:36).
In other words, Jesus’ parable taught that what really matters is not the identity of my neighbor, but “proving” the character of the love within my heart for others.
This reversal of the expert’s question reveals what kind of love we are to have for others. It’s a love not based on whether others are worthy of such love, but on the quality of the love within us. This is God’s kind of love, the kind that emanates from the inner character of the one doing the loving, not the one being loved.
We are often like the expert. We want to focus on the worthiness of our neighbor, rather than the quality of the love within us. In this way we hope to limit the scope of God’s command to love others as ourselves.
As we seek to limit the command to love our neighbor, we often ask questions like:
- Who is this person? What if they’re trying to use me?
- Can’t you come back later? I’m too busy right now.
- Does this person deserve my help? Didn’t they get themselves into this mess?
- How much do they want? I don’t want to give too much.
- How far and long do I have to keep loving them?
The truth is that some people will use us. Some people really aren’t deserving of our love. Some are lying about their need. Some will never love you back. And many will not even say “thanks” when you do help them.
So, why do it? Because it reveals the true character of your heart. It shows that the love of God is within you. We love our neighbor because we are moved with compassion from within by the Spirit of God. And in so doing, we become the salt and the light of the world as Christ commanded. We act as the body of Christ, loving our neighbors with His sacrificial, perfect love.
Have you looked in the mirror lately and asked, “What kind of neighbor am I?”