But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Luke 10:29

When we think about naming and labeling, recall how God gave Adam the job of naming what He created. That naming was not just a vocabulary challenge but it was an exercise in dominion. In the same way whether we are talking about a doctor diagnosing an ailment or a chemist identifying the elements that make up some compound, that process of naming or classifying determines how a thing is treated or handled. It’s a very powerful exercise and subsequently very dangerous when we begin to direct it at people and people groups.

Who is my neighbor?

The religious man, desiring to justify himself asks, “Who is my neighbor?” That is, ‘Who am I to treat with the regard as I would a neighbor?’  That is, ‘Who is it that I am commanded to love as myself?’ (Lev. 19:18)

“Who is my neighbor?”

The religious man asks in attempt to justify himself. Though seemingly innocuous, this question is a dangerous question of classification that seeks to determine the categories to which we assign people, and subsequently the standards whereby we determine what treatment and behavior is appropriate for and of them. This dangerous question of classification – this labeling – the titles we render, if we are honest about, are not just titles but they are meant in some way or another to define value, honor, or dishonor someone or something.

“Who is my neighbor?”

The history of our nation is marred by the moral failures of both individuals and institutions (Church and State alike) that have not embodied the heart of what it means to neighborly. In much the same way as the lawyer in the text, we (that is the religious establishment) would much rather label people than love them. We would much rather engage in intellectual calisthenics that lead us toward rational disobedience, than to embody the simple message of Christ.

The church in America has largely failed to embrace this message of neighborliness. As a result the world now stumbles at our faulty witness.

Our identity (as Christians – as the Church) is bound to our relationship with God the Father through Christ’s, but it is also inextricably linked to our relationship with our neighbors.  Without dereliction or discrimination, our foremost and most consequential efforts must be in the expression of our love for God through our love for our neighbors.

The identity and witness of the church hinges on how we level and answer this important question “Who is my neighbor?”

Who is my neighbor?

We cannot profess any love for GOD while debasing, degrading, or disregarding the other. We cannot be good neighbors by being passive witnesses to terrible acts of violence (in words and deeds) against those created in His image and likeness.

We are immediately found to be liars and hypocrites who possess a form of godliness but deny its power.

We are as waterless clouds, threatening rain but never yielding a drop.

Our very confessions become curses to us – bearing witness against us before God and man.

Our assemblies, now raucous with shallow and shrill worship, send up sacrifices that are a stench in His nostrils and a sting to the Divine ear.

The fruit of Spirit has withered and died on a branch long pruned and purged from the True Vine while we quibble on…

Who is my neighbor?

Who is worthy of such love?

Who deserves it?

Jesus answers, in the parable… ‘Everyone who needs…’

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