Now, Jesus turns the lawyer’s question back to him. Instead of answering, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus, drawing an unassailable apologetic from His poignant tale, asks the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (v. 36). The lawyer’s arrogance is under gracious assault. He answers, “The one who showed him mercy” (v. 37).
Perhaps the lawyer has begun to understand. We need to consider anew both the message and manner of Jesus’ mercy. We must go and do likewise. Most everyone takes a turn, bruised and beaten, on Jericho Road, as it were. That road may consist of emotional issues, financial distress, illness, addiction, or marital disharmony. Will compassion triumph over convenience? Pity over prejudice? Tender understanding over the tyranny of the urgent? What if someone wound up on Jericho Road through sinful foolishness? Should I bother to help someone like that? But isn’t that how most of us find ourselves on our own Jericho Road?
What if the needy person is just too different from me? Maybe someone from their side of the tracks should step up. But the question isn’t, “How can someone whose skin color is not like mine, whose beliefs are different, whose sexual past, present, or future is embarrassing possibly be my neighbor?” Rather, we must ask, “Whose neighbor do I get to be today? Whose neighbor can I become?” If, as Psalm 23:6 says, grace is on the chase, then let’s join the race. Even if—especially if—that race is risky, costly. Even if—especially if—we aren’t “made of money” ourselves. After all, the race of the Christian life to which Hebrews 12:1 refers is an agona—it can be agonizing, burdensome. Jonathan Edwards preached a searching sermon, “The Duty of Charity to the Poor,” in which he asked:
If we are never obliged to relieve others’ burdens but only when we can do it without burdening ourselves, then how do we bear our neighbor’s burdens, when we bear no burden at all? Though we may not have a superfluity, yet the case may be so that we may be obliged to give for the relief of others that are in much greater necessity, as appears by that rule; Luke 3:11, “He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none, and he that hath meat let him do likewise.”
Giving our coat, covering the naked cold of another, we clothe ourselves with compassionate hearts (Col. 3:12). Let us not turn away like the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17–22, wanting to earn eternal life and disheartened because his great possessions possessed him.
We are the cherished possessions of the One who became our neighbor, assuming flesh, dwelling among us, running the race for us, fulfilling the whole law, burdened with our sin, left bloodied, beaten, and dead on the cross. He lifted us up off the Jericho Road of our own sin and brokenness, poured the oil and wine of salvation upon us, covered us with a new “coat”—the robe of His righteousness (Isa. 61:10)—bound our wounds by His wounds (53:5), and secured a place for us in the inn of the inner sanctum, beyond the veil (Heb. 6:19). He now bids us to be loving neighbors.
Rather than ask what we must do to earn eternal life, we become neighbors to the needy, not to earn eternal life, but to evidence that we have eternal life; not to merit our justification, but to manifest we are justified by a grace that is ever on the chase, especially when we wander down paths most remote and treacherous.