Jesus Doesn't Call Us to Merely Be Nice
"And who is my neighbor?”
This was not a question asked out of sincerity or a heart of compassion. Instead, Scripture tells us the expert in religious law who asked Jesus this question was trying to test Jesus and to justify his own actions (or lack thereof).
Self-righteous, insincere legalist! I declare in my mind.
The crazy thing about this story (like so many others in Scripture) is that it turns the tables on me in an instant. While I judge the religious teacher, I’m trying to justify myself. My own religious pride leaps at this opportunity to feel superior to another—to tell myself that I understand Jesus much better than this guy obviously did. To pat myself on the back because I get what it means to love your neighbor and he obviously didn’t. (I know the “Good Samaritan” punch line, after all.)
But do I really know and live like the Good Samaritan? Am I able to see and embrace my neighbor when he or she comes in the form of a stranger? An enemy? Even a “self-righteous, insincere legalist”?
Am I willing to see that the Old Testament’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself” isn’t just a general principle about being vaguely nice, but is an absolutely radical call to self-sacrifice and whole-hearted agape love? Am I willing to see my role in Jesus’ story- answer? To see that I am the priest who puts distance between himself and the beaten man to avoid contact with raw, human need? To see that I am the Temple assistant who dared
to look at the man’s suffering but then went on his way without taking action?
It’s a call not just to see but in fact to be the Samaritan man whose response of compassion meant not just pity or sorrow but tenderness, healing, generosity, and mercy.
Our love for God draws us out of our comfort and into his great compassion. This love enables us to ask the question eagerly rather than motivated by self-justification: “Who is my neighbor?”
Who around me can I love with this great love of Jesus?
In this issue of Today’s Christian Woman, we’re exploring God’s convicting and compelling call in each of our lives to live out real neighbor-love by examining three key questions:
• Will you push past anonymity to actively love your neighborhood? In a culture of disconnection and namelessness, God has placed you right where you live and has given you actual neighbors. But do you know them? Laura Leonard asks. In “Love Your Neighbor (in 4C) as Yourself,” Laura busts the traditional suburban, picket-fence idea of neighborhood to highlight how even those of us who live in apartments can actively embody Jesus’ call to neighbor-love.
• Will you see and value someone who is different than you? In “Dare to See the ‘Other,’” Margot Starbuck honestly discusses the real challenge of overcoming racial and cultural divisions. And in “The Prostitute Next Door,” Erin Venable describes her own inner struggle with conviction when she learned that her new neighbor was turning tricks next door. Margot and Erin invite us to consider: Are we willing to confront and root out quiet prejudice where it exists in our own hearts? How we treat whoever it is who’s “the other” to us is where the real crux of the Good Samaritan story lies.
• When God shows you a need, will you respond with action? For Renee James, she heard the need before she saw it: the sound of bullets being fired in her neighborhood. In “One Family’s Response to Neighborhood Violence,” Renee describes how this frightening encounter compelled her to combine prayer and action.
God drew Arloa Sutter’s attention to another need—poverty—as he called her to live and minister in Chicago’s East Garfield Park neighborhood. In “Breaking Through Together” Austin Channing Brown profiles Arloa’s vision for a grassroots ministry that’s driven from within the community itself. “When Arloa uses the word neighbor, she isn’t kidding,” Austin explains. “Not only does Arloa live in the community but so does 60 percent of her staff and many of the volunteers.”
Like so many of Jesus’ deceptively simple stories and teachings, his encounter with the religious expert in Luke 10 asks me questions that can only be adequately answered with life-change and heart transformation. My self-congratulatory efforts at niceness are stripped
away and I’m invited, instead, to live within and to embody the deep, deep love of Jesus that goes beyond “Hi” to truly know and to love. Oh Jesus, keep teaching me how to love my neighbor.
Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women
Jesus Doesn't Call Us to Merely Be Nice
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