Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbour’?”
Luke 10:29 MSG
I wonder what the person meant when they asked Jesus this question.
Context matters. Here, Jesus is answering questions and explaining some real stuff about God and being human. He can read a crowd, and quickly spots those who are trying to trick him and those who are asking genuine questions. A ‘teacher of the law’ (aka expert) asks what he must do to get eternal life. Jesus replies by throwing a question back at him – asking the man what is written in the law. This teacher comes back with: “‘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, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”
And what does Jesus reply with? Well, it’s pretty much: “Great, go do that.”
What would you or I have done here, I wonder?
The teacher of the law goes with: “And who is my neighbour?”
The translation of the Bible we have used suggests that he was trying to find a loophole instead of embracing the idea of loving his neighbours. If he was looking for a loophole, a different way to ask the questions might be: “Just how much effort do I need to put in?”
The conversation continues with Jesus telling a story of a man who saves the life of another man who is a total stranger to him. A great neighbourly thing to do, right? Except that he saved the stranger’s life even though the stranger was his natural enemy. Not just a ‘minor argument’ kind of enemy, but a, ‘there is such a generational, political, and cultural chasm between us that we can’t even inhabit that same part of the country’ kind of enemy.
When it comes to loving our neighbours, this is the example of the level of effort we need to put in. As well as doing the easy thing, we need to be choosing the hard stuff as well. The stuff that makes no sense to the people around us. The stuff that doesn’t only benefit us, but also benefits our neighbours in other lands. That’s when we go global.
It was Dr Martin Luther King who said: “Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world.” Our lives are totally inter-related with those of our global neighbours. We know that it’s not just the natural world that needs our attention in the battle for the planet, it’s the people on it! Being a good neighbour means being aware of the balance of power and systemic struggles that make life crushingly, unjustly, oppressively hard for so many. It means being aware of privilege and doing the hard work in ourselves and in the world to deconstruct, challenge and change things.
It starts with our everyday choices of what we buy, what we eat, or wear. Let’s think about our neighbours who are forced to work in the harshest conditions, who live in poverty and hardship as a result – how can we make a break in the chain of consumption and put our neighbours above our ‘stuff’? That’s what defines us as good neighbours – what we are prepared to do help, not just our friends, but what we do to help, empower, and liberate strangers; neighbours we don’t know.
There’s no loophole in the love of a good neighbour.
Bible text taken from:
The Message (MSG) © Eugene H Peterson, 2018
New International Version (NIV) © Biblica, 2011