The Most Important Commandment
One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”
The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”
The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Parable of the Good Samaritan
Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.
“By chance, a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.
“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’
“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.
The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”
Who is our neighbor?
In Luke 10, Jesus was having a conversation with a religious lawyer. Unlike other encounters with His listeners, the lawyer’s inquiry was not just an honest question. The religious lawyer was testing Jesus in hopes that He would fail the test to prove that the Son of God was a fraud. However, Jesus brought the man back to the Law of Moses, reminding the man and those who are to hear this story what God commands us. To live, we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. And on top of this, we must also love our neighbor as ourselves. However, the man asks an important question: Who is our neighbor?
Back in Jesus’ day, people believed that they were to take care of those in the same tribe and ignore those outside of their circle. Samaritans and Jews have no business interacting with each other. The two groups of people were enemies. Jesus telling the Good Samaritan story shows us who our neighbor is and what we can do for those people.
In many instances, we find it hard to be a good neighbor. We come up with different excuses, we see the lack in our own selves, and sometimes just the thought can stress us out. One act of “neighboring” can lead to countless others, and we might not be able to sustain it, as it can require too much from us. But Jesus, after telling the story of the Samaritan, encourages the religious lawyer and all the people who will hear His words to do the same.
A different perspective on the word “neighbor”
The religious man correctly identified a “neighbor” as someone who shows mercy. But perhaps we’ll have a deeper understanding of the word if we think of it not as a noun but as a verb—an action word. So what does it mean to neighbor?
That Samaritan shows us how to neighbor. He must have the same belief as the person who was beaten up. He must have heard and known that the foreigner has nothing to do with him and deserves no care. But instead of looking for excuses for neglecting the sufferer, he gives his heart over, shows compassion, and claims the man as his own brother in his distress. He gets off his donkey, pours into his wounds oil and wine, bandages them up, keeps down inflammation, carefully puts him on his donkey, and brings him to the nearest place where he can rest and heal. He provides everything he needs to be cared for. This is neighboring.
The parable is shared with us to move us to neighbor—to move—but not without Jesus. Jesus is not only the author and perfector of our faith but also of our neighboring.
In Greek, they described the Samaritan man as the one who showed eleos—mercy, compassion, and goodwill, along with the desire to relieve another. The neighbor was focused on action, not just showing his kindness through words or even embracing a concept. He was the one who responded with compassion to do something about his affliction.
When it comes to us, why do we look for excuses? Why do we try to justify our lack of neighboring and compassion? Perhaps we can attribute this to the so-called compassion fatigue. Those who have been serving and working for others are getting exhausted, especially in our current situation. To be exhausted is part of being human. There is a lot of obligation and work that is before us and we are confronted with our shortcomings, especially when we do the work without Jesus. We will surely get tired when we try to “save” or help others on our own strength.
Find compassion and comfort in Jesus
Once we start solving the problems on our own and remove our Savior from the equation, we will surely burn out faster. We won’t find relief when we start neglecting our time to sit and wait before the Lord. Without Him, we won’t have enough for ourselves and those who need mercy and compassion. Jesus offers inexhaustible eleos that is always available for us.
Sometimes it’s just that we need a break, space, and time to breathe. It feels good to just stop and breathe and then do it again. You can take a break and spend time with Jesus. Let Him show you compassion and love the way you need to. We carry so much obligation on our backs for the welfare of others. We carry so much on our spirits because we feel the burden of others.
What would happen in our neighboring if we understood God’s compassion for us? What would happen in our neighboring and serving if we really understood how deeply God loves us? He visited us in the flesh and took our sin to the cross, and He is with us to give us relief. May His work in our lives lead us to understand His compassion for us and encourage us to do the same. Neighboring would be less of a burden and more of a response to what God has done for us.
The compassion this world needs, Jesus has done for us. And then in us. And then through us.
Let us reflect: Who will need your help today? Who will you be in the story? Where has Jesus given you relief today?