A man asked Jesus, "But who is my neighbor?" and Jesus's response indicates that the man was asking the wrong question. For Jesus never told the man who his neighbor was, but asked instead who the man would be a neighbor to.
We're diving into this story this week, and this is such an important concept to grasp. It's been our natural inclination to just assume Jesus answered the question as asked, told the man that his neighbor was anyone who needed his help, and adopted a faith that says that we are required to help anyone and everyone at any time and in every place.
Not only does this make our faith daunting - who among us could possibly help anyone and everyone at any time and in every place? - but it keeps us focusing on the wrong question, the question that Jesus did not actually answer.
We're really good at this in our Christian faith. We have a faith that tells us that we know what everyone else in the world ought to do. We have an outward-focused faith that believes it could fix the world in just a few breaths if the world would just listen to the truth that we know. We believe we have our finger on the pulse of eternity and that it's up to us to put this whole world in order by telling it what it doesn't seem to know.
We have become experts in everyone else's faith. We have become experts on everyone else's life.
Yet, we never see this in Scripture. We never see Jesus teach this to His disciples (or to anyone else, for that matter). We never see Jesus say, "Y'all know what everyone else should do? They should...." No. Jesus is always telling His followers what they are responsible for. He's always calling His disciples, and everyone else, to responsibility for their own actions. He's always asking men and women to own their own faith and stop worrying about everyone else's.
That's the heart of what He says when He tells a self-righteous mob, "Whoever among you has not sinned may throw the first stone." Worry about your own faith, not everyone else's.
No wonder, then, that when the man, self-righteous in his understanding, asks Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus tells him that he has the wrong question. No wonder Jesus corrects him. It's not who your neighbor is - the locus of your faith is not outside of yourself; it's who you will choose to be a neighbor to - your faith is established in your own heart.
See, this is our error. Because we think that Jesus has called us to save the world, and that's why it's so easy for us to be so sure about what everyone else should do. That's why we spend so much of our time concerned about how everyone else is living. Don't they know?
But Jesus never called us to save the world; He already did that. Jesus called us to love the world, and love is an act that we undertake from our own heart. It's not about what anyone else is doing; it's about what we choose to do. We choose to love...or not. It's that simple.
The command that the man was asking about says, "Love your neighbor as yourself," and the man asked, who is my neighbor? But Jesus says he's missed the whole point. The key word in that command is not 'neighbor,' as the man was so certain that it was.
The key word is love.
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