Remember the 90s? Of course you do. But in case you don't, let me remind you - the Christian fashion in the 90s was something called a "WWJD" bracelet (or necklace or ring or bookmark or whatever, but most commonly, a bracelet). It was marketed as a way to remind yourself throughout the day to ask yourself one very important question: What Would Jesus Do? But it quickly became just a cool way to say that you were not only a Christian, but a trendy Christian. You wore the bracelet because all of your Christian friends were wearing the bracelet, and you'd hold out your wrists in the cafeteria and compare bracelets to see who had the prettiest one or the coolest one or the most psychadelic one. You'd ask your friends where they got their WWJD bracelet.
But rarely did anyone ask what WWJD meant. It was just a thing. Like any fad, it didn't take long before everyone knew what WWJD meant, even those outside of the church, but no one talked about it. Everyone wore this important question somewhere on their body, but before long, no one was asking it any more.
That's the heart of this exchange that Jesus has with the man who wants to know, 'Who is my neighbor?' Jesus responds by telling him that is the wrong question, that the right question is rather, 'Who will you be a neighbor to?' And this is the subtle kind of difference that we keep getting wrong.
Most of us today are more prone to ask WWJHMD - What Would Jesus Have Me Do? In every situation, or in most of them, or in the ones that we're actually paying attention to in a world with so many distractions, we're asking what God expects of us. What are the guidelines He's set here? What does He want me to do? What's the bare minimum that I can do right now so that God will accept me and be proud of me?
And if God doesn't tell us exactly what to do? Most of us will do nothing at all.
A question like WWJD requires something that is lacking in today's world: it takes initiative. It takes a willingness to step into something on purpose. It takes us putting ourselves aside and actively seeking to figure out what a situation needs, what we're able to do, what would be the best thing for someone else. Most of us, honestly, are too busy asking what is the best thing for us. We simply can't be bothered to get involved in something that isn't really our problem, and unless God specifically tells us to, we won't. And if He does specifically tell us to, we'll do only as much as He tells us and nothing more (and if He asks too much, we'll argue Him down and justify our hesitation until we've done something, and then say that is good enough).
That's what the man in this story is asking. He's asking, What Would Jesus Have Me Do? Where are the parameters of my faithfulness? What does God expect of me?
Jesus's response draws the man back to his own bracelet - What Would Jesus Do? Jesus asks the man, who are you going to be a neighbor to? Who are you going out of your way for? Jesus's story is one scene after another after another of Jesus taking the initiative, stepping in, and actively loving people. That's what He wants us to do, and you can't put parameters on that. You can't set up a set of guidelines to say, "here's how you love." You have to just put it in your heart that you're going to love people the way Jesus loved them. You have to then become a person who looks at a situation and steps in on purpose and loves people.
It's the difference between asking What Would Jesus Have Me Do? and What Would Jesus Do? It's harder, and it's far more than a fashion statement, but it's what gets us closer to the abundant, thrilling life of love that Jesus has for us.