“And who is my neighbor?” the lawyer asks Jesus (Luke 10:29).
The lawyer had just given a “correct” answer to his own question about what one must do to inherit eternal life. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind… and love your neighbor as yourself.
Bingo! Jesus affirms this answer. “Do this and you will live.”
But… the lawyer has one more question. “And who is my neighbor?” The text says he said this because he wanted to “justify himself.”
In reply to his question, Jesus tells a story. The now-famous “Good Samaritan” parable. A man gets beaten to within an inch of his life. The priest and the Levite ignore him (ostensibly to maintain their piety, but that’s probably how they were “justifying themselves”). But a Samaritan comes along, and (gasp!) generously helps him.
Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who needed help? The Samaritan. “Go and do likewise,” Jesus says.
In telling this parable, Jesus turns the lawyer’s question inside-out. The lawyer was attempting to limit the scope of who he would be required to love (and still inherit eternal life).
But that’s not how love works at all. The love that flows into you from God and saturates your whole being, and then flows back to God from your whole heart, soul, strength, and mind… this love is the same love that flows outward toward your fellow humans, and to all creation.
Love has no other source, and the love that comes from the God who is love is unlimited and undiscriminating. He gives sunshine and rain to both the righteous and the wicked. God’s love simply flows outward, so that anyone who is touched by God is touched by love.
So if that love is flowing into you and through you back to God and out toward others… “Who is my neighbor?” is a nonsensical question, because if you really are filled with the love of God, you’re the neighbor. The neighbor isn’t the potential object of your love. The neighbor is you, filled with God’s love and offering it to all, indiscriminately.
Those who really do love God with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind cannot help but become neighbors to all, loving everyone they meet as themselves, because this is how God’s love works.
“Who is my neighbor?” Well, maybe a Samaritan, because he has been transformed by God’s love. And if you really do want to inherit eternal life, you should imitate him.