Who is your neighbor? With all the violence in our nation, and in light of the Dallas shooting, we should ask ourselves, “Who is our neighbor?” As our community continues to grow more diverse than ever before, and maybe we don’t know the person next door as well as we should, we should ask ourselves, “Who is my neighbor?”

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered: “ ‘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 neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:25-37

The expert in the law wanted to justify himself, make himself look right. If he was going to love his neighbor as himself, he needed to know who it was so that he could prove that he was justified in his actions.

We come up with all kinds of excuses to justify ourselves in the eyes of God. Have you loved the Lord your God with all your being all the time? It doesn’t take long to come to the conclusion that we have not. So we try to justify ourselves with the excuse that we are doing our best, or that others are worse, or that nobody’s perfect. We haven’t loved God with all our being all the time.

We come up with excuses to justify ourselves in the way we love our neighbor: I don’t know my neighbor, they are so different from me, they don’t love me. We haven’t loved our neighbors as our self. So if we can’t justify ourselves, how can we have eternal life? Since we could not love God and neighbor as we should, God sent Jesus to live and love perfectly in our place. He loved God and His will and kept His commands perfectly, with his entire being, all the time. He loved his neighbor as himself perfectly. And the punishment we deserved for not loving God and neighbor as we should, Jesus also took that on himself at the cross.

Our justification, being right in the eyes of God, comes through faith in Jesus Christ, in his perfect life and innocent death. You can’t justify yourself. In the eyes of God, the only way to be justified is to be seen with the righteousness of Jesus that is ours through faith. God has justified you in Jesus.

The love and mercy God has shown us in Jesus, is the same love and mercy God wants us to show to others. The expert of the law learned the valuable lesson: our neighbor is anyone and everyone. It’s not just the people that we know, or the people we get along with, or the people that look and act just like us. Our neighbor is everyone we come into contact with on a daily basis, whether they are in need or not. “Go and do likewise” Jesus said. What a difference you will make in your community and that we can make in our nation and world, as we listen to the one who has justified us and tells us to go and show mercy to all people. Keep Christ First!

Pastor Chris Christenson
First Evangelical Lutheran Church
La Crescent, MN