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United Methodist Forum: What does it mean to love my neighbor?

Aid, advancement and advocacy

By the Rev. Jorge Acevedo
August 31, 2017

Photo of the Rev. Jorge Acevedo by Francesca Morey Photography.

Photo of the Rev. Jorge Acevedo by Francesca Morey Photography. 

One of the best biblical illustrations to answer this question is found in Luke 10. It’s one of Jesus’ fairly well-known parables, commonly called “the Good Samaritan.” The context within which Jesus tells the story is important to get. It’s told in Luke 10:25-29 (NLT):

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Now mind you, the person that Jesus tells the parable to is a religious, church-going fellow. He has an honorable question for the Master. “What should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus does what he so often does. He answers a question with a question. “What does the Torah, the law of Moses say?” Like a good student of the Torah, the questioning man answers, “Love God with all that you are. Love your fellows as you love yourself.” This was Hebrew 101!

Then comes this final word. “The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, ‘Who is my neighbor?’” What was the man trying to justify? He was trying to insist to Jesus that indeed he loved God completely and loved neighbor as he loved himself. The question was a bit of a ruse. “And who is my neighbor?” was the man’s self-justification. “I’m a good guy! I go to church. I tithe. I’m in a small group.” But in the end, the man was setting himself up for Jesus to firmly push into his heart. Jesus begins the story in Luke 10:30-33 (NLT):

Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up and left him half-dead beside the road. By chance, a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him.”

Now to the man and the listening crowd, Jesus’ story is fine at first. A Jewish traveler being beaten and left for dead by bandits was sad but not uncommon in that day. Traveling alone made this a real possibility. That the priest and the Temple Assistant did not help the brother out was not a big deal because to assist the man would make them unclean and unable to do their very important religious work. When the wind would have been sucked out of the room was when the man that helped the Jewish traveler was introduced.

“Then a despised Samaritan came along.” There would have been boos and hisses at this point in the story. Samaritans were half-breeds from the other side of the tracks. There was a long-standing feud between Jews and Samaritans. This is like the Florida Gators vs. the Florida State Seminoles in college football or North Carolina vs. Duke in college basketball. No love lost here! And yet, the Samaritan had compassion on the man. He was a good neighbor. And what he does next modeled for that religious man in the first century and us religious men and women in the 21st century what it means to really love our neighbor.

He answers this question with his actions: what does it mean to love our neighbors? That’s the bottom line in this story of Jesus. It’s about demonstrating God’s love. This Samaritan man preaches the Gospel, but how? I discerned three ways we can love our neighbors from this story of Jesus.

First, we love our neighbors by giving immediate aid! So, the compassionate Samaritan in Jesus’ story finds the man beaten and battered on the road. What does he first do? Luke 10:34 (NLT) tells us:

Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him.

The man did a bit of rudimentary EMT work, loaded him up on a first-century ambulance — a donkey — and took him to a healing place, an inn! The Samaritan stopped the bleeding! This was his expression of loving his neighbor.

Second, we love our neighbors by giving ongoing advancement! So, the Samaritan gets the man’s bleeding stopped and gets him settled in a room. Was his responsibility of loving his neighbor as he loved himself over? Look at what the kind man does next in Luke 10:35 (NLT):

The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, “Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.”

The Samaritan healer not only stopped the bleeding, but he had a lasting commitment to the man’s healing.  He committed himself financially to the man’s bills and further healing. He wanted to help the man move from dependence to independence. This is what I want to call advancement.

Third, we love our neighbors by giving continual advocacy! Jesus story has ended, but he turns to the religious man and asks one more piercing question. Luke 10:36-37a (NLT) gives it:

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Jesus lifts up the hated and despised Samaritan as the hero of the parable. Jesus gave a voice to a voiceless man. He put on a pedestal for all to see one who was least likely and said, “This guy gets noticed by God.”

Who are the unnoticed in our community and world? It’s the powerless: the poor, the homeless, the imprisoned, the marginalized. All throughout the Bible, God’s people are challenged to be a voice for the voiceless.

Over the past several years, God has been ringing my bell and challenging me with the question, “Jorge, what will you do with the influence and power I have given you and Grace Church? Will you speak up for the voiceless?” And I am crystal clear on this one my friends: I will.

Aid, advancement and advocacy. This is what it meant in the first century and means in the 21st century to love our neighbors. Jesus ended this story with this charge to his church:

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” (Luke 10:37b, NLT)

Let’s do it, church!

The Rev. Jorge Acevedo is lead pastor of Grace Church, a multisite United Methodist congregation in Florida.