Got Any Neighbors?By Joe Stowell on August 7, 2018
Recently at Cornerstone we held a Talking Points event focused on the theme of justice and unity. We had a good turnout with insightful teaching and a panel discussion about issues that tend to divide the body of Christ.
We can blame our disunity on a lot of things, but at the core is our own sinfulness—particularly the prejudices that we carry.
Jesus' life and ministry dramatically demonstrated that the word prejudice is not in His vocabulary. In fact, He hates prejudice in any form. He detests racism, classism and religious snobbery. Why? Because it defies who He is and what He came to do. No one escaped the embrace of His love and concern. And He calls us to love as He did—without limits. But prejudice blocks our ability to love as He did and denies us the privilege of being like Him in our world.
When one of the Pharisees had hoped to embarrass Jesus by asking Him to name the greatest commandment, Jesus answered that we should love God with the totality of our being. And although it was more than the scheming lawyer had asked for, Jesus added the second most important command: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39). Not "second" meaning less important, but sequentially. In other words, the authenticity of our love for God is measured by our attitudes and acts of love for others.
Ironically, the Pharisees prided themselves in mastering their love for God but were dreadfully lacking in love for their neighbor—which, in Jesus' book, would break the first command. Their prejudices—often supported by their self-constructed theology and traditions—reduced their circle of involvement to people who were a lot like themselves. When the "expert in the law" asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29). Jesus' concern was not identifying who our neighbor is, but whether or not we are acting in a "neighborly" way to others regardless of who they are.
The important dynamic in the story Jesus told about the Good Samaritan is not that the religious passersby were too busy to help the dying victim. It is rather that they were the true victims. The priest and Levite, trying to avoid ceremonial defilement, were victims of a distorted view of righteousness. And that distorted view disabled them from keeping the law's most fundamental command about loving those in distress regardless of who they are—which should give us pause about any thoughts or attitudes that might blind us to the needs of others outside our usual circle of concern. Quite simply, if we can't love them, we can't love Jesus!
Lord, as difficult as it may be, I pray that you would bring to mind any prejudice that keeps us from loving others the way you love us. We want to love the way that Jesus loved—to be like the Good Samaritan in our willingness to tangibly care for those outside our usual circle. Please give us the strength, grace and courage to love our neighbors. Amen.