Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
I was prompted by this text to remember an incident that happened my first year of college. Back then I was lighter, more agile, and more energetic. Being late for a class I was running out of a building to head across campus. I had to get from the third floor to the ground floor, and knew I could take the stairs down much faster than waiting for an elevator. The stairway had a landing halfway between each floor, so I just jumped from the top down to the landing, then jumped from the landing to the next level. On the landing between the first and second floors, I was off balance and rolled my ankle with some real force. The pain was so intense that I couldn’t move. As I laid there on the landing, curled up in the fetal position moaning helplessly, a couple of students came up the stairs from the first floor. They looked at me, made eye contact, and then kept walking. I felt angry, abandoned, and absolutely helpless. I was the man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.
I wished someone had taken the time to at least check to see if I was ok. I needed someone who could be a neighbor to me.
This lawyer comes to Jesus with a question. What has to happen for me to inherit eternal life? Jesus responds by asking him what he has learned from scripture. The lawyer quotes Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19. “Love God and love your neighbor.”
Yes! Says Jesus. You’ve got it. That’s all there is to life. Do that and you have nothing to worry about.
Instead of taking “yes” for an answer, the lawyer just can’t leave it alone. “But . . .” says the lawyer, “which ones are my neighbors? Which ones do I need to love; and which ones do I not have to love?”
Jesus responds with this oh-so-familiar parable. The neighbor, Jesus says, the one we are to love, is anyone who is in pain, anyone who is helpless. Anyone. Jew or even Samaritan. Friend or enemy. Someone you know or someone you’ve never met.
But . . . you could say the injured man in the parable should never have been on that road from Jerusalem to Jericho in the first place. It’s a wilderness road, a haven for robbers. And Jesus says, the neighbor is anyone who is in pain, anyone who is helpless. Anyone.
But . . . he should know better than to travel alone. He’s asking for trouble. And Jesus says, the neighbor is anyone who is in pain, anyone who is helpless. Anyone.
But . . . his situation is really his own fault. He should never have put himself in that position. And Jesus says, the neighbor is anyone who is in pain, anyone who is helpless. Anyone.
As I’m curled in the fetal position, paralyzed by pain in the corner of the stairwell, you could say, “But . . . your reasons for being late and therefore in such a hurry weren’t good ones.” You could say, “But . . . jumping down 10-12 steps at a time wasn’t a wise choice.” You could say, “But . . . the fact that you were writhing in pain on a landing in the stairwell of a state university was your own fault.” You could say that, and you would be right. But at that moment, none of that mattered—certainly not to me. I was in agonizing pain, helpless, and ignored.
Jesus says, the neighbor is anyone who is in pain, anyone who is helpless. Anyone. Jew or Samaritan. Friend or enemy. Someone you know or someone you’ve never met.
Christ is revealed in those “neighbor” moments when someone comes alongside anyone who is in pain or helpless. Jesus says the neighbor is anyone who is in pain, anyone who is helpless. Anyone. Jew or Samaritan. Friend or enemy. Someone you know or someone you’ve never met.
Even a 64-year-old man for whom medical staff failed to seek emergency care. He died as a result.
Even a 71-year-old man with Parkinson’s disease and chronic kidney disease who receives a different number of pills without explanation. The man also has dementia and is unable to determine whether he is receiving the correct dosage.
Even a transgender woman, who faces repeated sexual harassment, hasn’t been given the hormone medication since January that she had been taking for eight years. She is depressed and feels hopeless.
Even a 42-year-old woman who hasn’t been receiving cortisone shots she used to receive for arm and knee injuries.
Each of these people, because they are helpless and in pain, qualify according to Jesus as needing a neighbor. Someone who will come alongside of them in care and compassion; someone who will reveal Christ to them. Someone who is a neighbor to them.
Each one of these are real people who are in the ICE Detention Center right here in Aurora, CO.
And if any of us have a reaction that includes, “But . . . aren’t some of them here illegally? But . . . didn’t they know this would happen? But . . . this is really their own fault” Jesus answers us, the neighbor is anyone who is in pain, anyone who is helpless. Anyone. Jew or Samaritan. Friend or enemy. Someone you know or someone you’ve never met.
Christ is revealed in those “neighbor” moments when someone comes alongside anyone who is in pain or helpless. Anyone. Christ invites us to be neighbors. And Christ assures us he will always be our neighbor.