For the neighbor...Pt 1

Week 5, Day 2

Matthew 22. 34-40

“Justice is what love looks like in public” Cornel West

We have a short text this week, from Matthew 22. 34-40, that will provide the background to our conversations about three other gospel stories:

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ Jesus said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

I have enough faith in human nature to believe that most people, most of the time, want to do the right thing. (The fact that we fail to do the right thing more often than not is, I think, important, but beside the point). So for the people who want to know what to do, the “number one rule for doing the right thing” is a useful bit of knowledge.

And here we have it. Rule #1. The Greatest of all Commandments!!


Which, of course, all by itself, is the worst of all meaningless “Rabbit Answers”.

“Love God” and “love your neighbor” are a little better, as answers go. But they still lack substance. Love is such a squishy word. It has so many meanings that it has almost no meaning at all.

Which is why Jesus told so many stories.

From Luke 10: “…but wanting to justify himself, the lawyer asked Jesus, ‘Who is my neighbor? 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…’”

By chance, three other men walk by. A priest—a keeper of holy things in Jerusalem, a Levite—sort of an assistant priest, and a Samaritan—who would have been considered by the purity minded as a kind of spiritual half-breed; the one who lives next door but would never be a neighbor.

The story is a set up, of course. One of these three is going to help the poor man in the ditch; but which one. Jesus’ listeners likely expected that the priest, or at least the Levite—men who touched holy things, would have been touched by compassion as well, and would have leant their aid.

But it was the Samaritan—the outsider, the stranger, the different one who sees the beaten man with the eyes of a neighbor. And with the hands of a neighbor he binds the wounds, lifts the wounded onto his own animal and takes him to safety.

Now let’s be clear about one thing. This is not a case of Jew—bad/Samaritan—good. The question Jesus is addressing with this story is not, “Who are the good people?” The question is, What does it mean to be a good person? To be a neighbor? To do the right thing? Any one of them could have been a neighbor. That day, only one of them was.

“…love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself”.

“Justice (doing the right thing) is what love looks like in public”.

In other words, be the neighbor.


Prayer: God, you have been neighbor to us, binding our wounds and carrying us to safety. May we grow more fully into your likeness, see more clearly with your eyes and live as neighbors to the world you love. Amen.

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