Sunday, February 01, 2009

To whom will I be a neighbor

In Dallas Willard's 'The Divine Conspiracy' he talks about the parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10:25-37. You know, where an expert in the law asks Jesus how he can inherit eternal life; and it comes out that he needs to love God and love his neighbors. So the guy asks Jesus, "Who is my neighbor," and Jesus goes into the story of how a man was beaten and left on the road, and first a priest goes by and doesn't do anything, then a Levite goes by and doesn't do anything, and it finally takes a Samaritan (a low-life sorta person) to come by and take care of the man.

Willard asserts that asking "Who is my neighbor?" was the wrong question. On p. 111 he says,
The story does not teach that we can have eternal life just by loving our neighbor. We cannot get away with that nice legalism either. The issue of our posture toward God still has to be taken into account. But in God's order nothing can substitute for loving people. And we define who our neighbor is by our love. We make a neighbor of someone by caring for him or her.

So we don't first define a class of people who will be our neighbors and then select only them as the objects of our love - leaving the rest to lie where they fall. Jesus deftly rejects the question "Who is my neighbor?" and substitutes the only question really relevant here: "To whom will I be a neighbor?" And he knows that we can only answer this question case by case as we go through our days. In the morning we cannot yet know who our neighbor will be that day. The condition of our hearts will determine who along our path turns out to be our neighbor, and our faith in God will largely determine whom we have strength enough to make our neighbor.

This brought a lot of thoughts to my mind. I think ultimately it speaks to the issue of control. It's a hard thing for many of us to cope with (well, at least me). Who gets to choose their 'neighbor?' I think for many people we're like, "Okay, I'm going to love... these people." And we set off trying to do our best. Whether this is in a nationalistic sense ("I love Americans and everyone else can go to hell"), or "I will love only Christians", or "I will love only evangelicals", or "I will love only missional people", or "I will love only blue-eyed blonde-haired people", or "I will love only people who aren't mean", and the list could go on and on and on.

Oh, of course, we would never do this intentionally, or actually say that we do it. But don't you think we all do this somewhat naturally? I think we are drawn more to people who are *like us*, or like we want to be. And Jesus is saying, "Hey, why don't you let me determine this for you. Why don't you give me control of your life, and love the ones I put you among or bring your way?"

Just now the lyrics, "If you can't be... with the one you love... then love the one you're with" came to mind. And I don't know that the songwriter and Jesus were talking about the same exact type of love, but I suppose it could be similar. At any rate, it also reminds me of the 'Experiencing God' stuff by Henry Blackaby... where he asserts that God is at work all around us, and our place is to simply open our eyes and join him there. That's also one of the things I remember when I heard Bob Roberts speak. He said something like, "If you want to know what God is calling you to do, OPEN YOUR EYES AND LOOK AROUND. He's probably put it right in front of your face."

I think this is a bigger issue than many of us want to admit - or, again, maybe it's just me - but I think I often subconsciously long for certain things, or I want to be in control of how my life goes, or who is in my life... and God is constantly at work just wishing I would open my eyes and look at what's in front of my face. Rather than me trying to figure out who my neighbor is (or who I want it to be), I should just be more neighborly to those I am with. Something like that.

Wishing you all peace... out, and in.


MR said...

Not only am I white-knuckling the controls of my life, but I'm not even listening to the screams of the passengers.

Patricia said...

I remember reading about a research study that ended up being an odd parallel to the Good Samaritan story. The study was done at University of Wisconsin fairly recently. The researchers videotaped people's response to a person in need (I think it was someone passed out on a sidewalk in the middle of winter.) The only people who actually stopped and offered to help were some college kids who had been partying (perhaps even imbibing a bit too much) at the bars. Ahh, a drink or two always made me feel generous too!