From Obligation to Opportunity
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
- Luke 10:29
Who do I have to love? Who do I have to care about? Who do I have to serve?
Today’s passage captures a pivotal moment in a conversation between Jesus and an expert in the Jewish religious codes. Both acknowledge that the Hebrew scriptures (what we’d now call the Old Testament) calls us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” But this is broad, sweeping, challenging call.
The man who came to question Jesus wanted to be able to soothe his conscience that he had fulfilled God’s call to love neighbor. Undoubtedly, he had shared his resources with the poor in the Temple. Perhaps he had taken care of sick or struggling relatives. He asks his question with Jesus full of hope that he has already lived up to the standard.
We all have a natural instinct to narrow our world down smaller and smaller relational networks. We only have a capacity for so many relationships. We can only connect with so many people. We settle into our tribes.
Your family. Your workplace. Your neighborhood. Your church. You volunteer organization. Your alma mater. Your friends. Your political party. Your race. Your city-state-nation-planet-galaxy. You probably feel different levels of obligation toward each of these different relational networks. This is normal and healthy, until it isn’t.
Most of the most heinous cases of Christians behaving badly happen when something goes wrong with our tribal affiliation. We’re at our worst when we put our church or our family or our politics above our connection with Jesus. We can do terribly un-Christ-like things in Christ’s name.
One clear sign that this drift has started is when our language begins to shift from opportunity to obligation, from “Who can I love?” to “Who must I love?”. Jesus spots this drift happening in his conversation-partner’s heart. And that’s where Jesus directs his attention.
Try asking yourself these questions today:
- How can I honor God today?
- How can I spend time with God today?
- How can I serve God today?
- How can I celebrate God today?
- Who can I help today?