Somebody out there is shaking his or her head saying, “I don’t think I’d pick this verse out as one of the hard passages, Sambo. Challenging, yes, but hard? I think just maybe that farm of yours has had you working too long out in the sun. Just sayin’.”
I totally understand that sentiment. Most sermons and lessons on this text are built around the, ‘as you love yourself’ part. And I get that. Loving your neighbor sounds vague and nebulous as a stand-alone concept, but by adding, ‘as you love yourself’, it has depth and focus and raises the stakes.
In my opinion, focusing on that last phrase alone misses the mark. I want to spend a moment on the word ‘neighbor’, because I think that’s what makes this command so tough.
When we read those words, “Love Your neighbor…” it’s really takes some effort not to picture Mr. Rogers, in his cardigan, singing, as he changes into his slippers. ‘Neighbor’ is a good guy word. It’s safe. It implies proximity, barbecues, connection, coffee, relationships worth investing in…or does it?
In Luke Chapter 10, after Jesus quotes this commandment, in verse 29 we read that one of the Jewish leaders asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?’ It is Jesus’ surprising answer that moves this teaching into the ‘hard’ category.
As an answer to this loaded question, Jesus gives an equally loaded response. This is where Jesus tells the famous story of The Good Samaritan. I have absolutely no doubt that the Jewish leaders were outraged when they heard the parable.
Unfortunately, 2000 years of time have separated us from the social and religious context of The Good Samaritan Story and it kind of loses some of its scandalous nature to our 21st century western minds. Please allow me to retell the story as Jesus might tell in in 21st Century Georgia.
“A guy was driving from Nashville down to Atlanta for a big Prayer and Worship conference, when he was mugged at the Georgia Welcome Center just south of Chattanooga on I-75. The poor man was pistol whipped, robbed, stripped, carjacked and left in the parking lot to die.
After a while, a preacher, headed to the same conference, stopped by to stretch his legs at the rest area and saw the man there in a pool of his own blood. He looked at his watch and said, “If I stop here, I’m going to get all bloody and will be late for my sermon. Besides, who knows what kind of guy this is.” Then he drove away.
A few minutes later, a couple of deacons who were also headed for the conference drove into the rest area, but when they saw the victim lying there, they got creeped out and just kept going.
By this time, the poor traveler has lost a great deal of blood, is in a lot of pain and is pretty sure he’s going to die.
Just when he’s about to give up hope, a young Middle Eastern Muslim man pulls up and sees him lying there. The Muslim immediately stops his car, gets on his phone and dials 911. Then while waiting for the ambulance, he does his best to tend to the man’s wounds.
Later, he follows the ambulance to the hospital where he goes to the window and speaks with the E.R. admissions team; “The person just brought in is very badly injured. He has no I.D. or money on him. There’s no way of knowing whether or not he has any insurance, so here.”
At that point, the Muslim stranger pulls out a wad of cash and lays a stack of $100 bills on the desk along with a business card. “If the cash doesn’t cover his bill, this card has my contact information. Call me, and I’ll take care of whatever you are still owed.”
When Jesus finished telling the parable, He looked at the horrified people and said, “Who do you think acted like the injured man’s neighbor?”
“I suppose the one who took pity on him”, someone murmured in reply.
“Exactly,” Jesus answered. “Now you go and do likewise.”
See why I say it’s one of the Bible’s hard teachings? It flies in the face of all our natural, national, religious, cultural and political instincts. But it’s precisely at this point, where our faith claims and the real world collide, that our allegiance to Christ is tested. Real life, real faith, is hard. It is messy and it is counterintuitive.
Remember this next time you want to scream, “Enough! Its time to get rid of those stinking _________, fill in the racial, political, religious, cultural, lifestyle blank. Every drop of blood that dripped from Jesus’ crucified body was spilled for her/him/them, just as surely as it was shed for you and me. He loves every single human being as much as he loves me. Wow!
Love my neighbor as I love myself? Man, that’s hard!