On Loving God and Neighbor – the Road to Eternal Life

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.
“Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
He answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.”
And he said to him, “You have given the right answer;
do this, and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus,
“And who is my neighbor?”
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor
to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him,
“Go and do likewise.”
(Luke 10:25-29; 36-37)

On Loving God and Neighbor – the Road to Eternal Life

“And who is my neighbor?” This question is followed by the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan. As I reflected again on this story, I asked myself how often have we repeated verse 27 out loud? We know we are to “love God with our heart, soul, strength and mind” – it has been taught to believers and followers of Christ for centuries. And yet when we get to the part about loving our neighbor as ourselves, it becomes tricky. We say the words, but I have found that we wrestle with how we live into our understanding of those words. I really do resonate with the question that the lawyer offers to Jesus. I resonate with the need or temptation to have a nicely tied response to the question – one that makes sense for where and how we live. It is simple enough – okay Jesus – who is my neighbor? Isn’t it the people with whom I worship or with whom I work; the people who live next door?

What becomes clear from the parable is that our neighbor is not only the one who lives next door, but also the stranger on the road; the one who is not ‘us;’ the one who is impure and bloodied. Our neighbor is the one who does not look like us; the one who has physical or psychological challenges; the one who sleeps homeless on the street. They are the one of different skin color; the one of differing political and theological views; the one with wealth; the one in poverty; the one of a different faith. We don’t get to limit our understanding of who our neighbor is.

How often do we shrink away from people who are simply different – simply because they make us uncomfortable? I know I have – even within our church families. The most compelling and frankly, most convicting part of this parable is Jesus’ question in verse 36 – “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The answer was obvious – “The one who showed him mercy” –obvious perhaps to us – yet, challenging to embrace in practice.

As we wrestle with the state of the church – with church membership numbers and what that means for our future as congregations; as we consider church growth strategies in best selling books; as we look for quick fixes and clever strategies- perhaps we should wrestle with what it would mean to invite our “neighbor” into the midst of our communities of faith. What would it mean to invite someone unknown or different who ultimately “shows mercy” in the world – someone who perhaps at first makes us uncomfortable – but who reflects the mercy of God in how they live? Wouldn’t that be a great statement of faith? It might even be an effective church growth strategy.

This is truly about being an authentic people of faith, of being communities of faith that reflect what it means to love God “with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind; as well as our neighbor as self.” For the truth is that we can’t honestly claim to love God faithfully if we do not love our neighbor – as ourselves. It’s a challenge to be taken seriously. Jesus is clear – eternal life is dependent on it!

Please click here for a PDF of Ruth’s Spirit Soundings: SantanaGraceSpiritSoundings30CT2015