“And he, being willing to justify himself, asked him ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (from Luke 10:25-37 the Gospel Reading for the 8th Sunday of Luke).
Our Gospel today questions the motive of the lawyer who approached Christ and asked him, “And who is my neighbor?” The Gospel passage indicates that he was “desiring to justify himself” when he asked this question. In other words, the question was not authentic. His agenda could not be found in the literal meaning of his question. There was something else going on. His real motive was to be found elsewhere. He was not simply confused about who was his neighbor and who was not. Rather, the Gospel is pointing out that he was concerned to justify his own correctness. He desired to show himself before the group assembled there with Jesus as an astute interpreter of the Law. His question, then, had really nothing to do with his neighbor and everything to do with himself. In fact, the very moment that he posed the question concerning his neighbor, he was actually evading his neighbor.
What do I mean? How could he be evading his neighbor by asking a question about him?
The lawyer was evading the Lord, the Lord’s teaching and his actual neighbor by turning the Lord’s teaching into a theological discussion. Perhaps you’ve met people who seem to have a boundless capacity for theological discussions. As a Priest I certainly do meet people who are willing to go on and on and on discussing religious questions with very little interest in actually doing the Lord’s will. Perhaps this is what our lawyer was up to. He wanted to turn the issue of loving one’s neighbor into a theological question – “Who is my neighbor?” He wanted to indulge in an academic exercise: “And so, Jesus, let’s explore the concept of neighborliness. What is the meaning of ‘love’ as we hear it in your words? Let us discuss the essence of community. What are the limits of diversity and tolerance?” Of course, all these are very deep, very profound questions that can be discussed in an academic sense.
In C.S. Lewis’ book The Great Divorce, about a bus trip from hell to heaven, there is a theologian in what C.S. Lewis calls the “grey city” and he is not able to find the time to make it to the bus stop because he is very busy with his theological society and the papers that he is working on to present on deep theological issues. What he seems to miss is that he is preoccupation with theology not only did not save him but is actually damning him.
I think it is easy for us to agree that this is not Christ’s approach. In the Gospels, Jesus is never interested in indulging in idle theoretical or theological discussions. You can’t find it. Neither is it the approach of the Orthodox Church. Do you want to know who your neighbor is? It’s almost like the saying, “if you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.” If you have to ask who your neighbor is, do you really want to know?
If you want to know who your neighbor is, Orthodoxy teaches, first find your closest neighbor. That is God. He is closer to you than anyone at any time. Find him through prayer. Secondly, learn from the Son of Man. Open the Gospel and hear the word of Christ. And third, open your eyes to the need around you. Then you will know who your neighbor is. You won’t need to become a theologian to figure it out. You won’t need to put a person through a certification process to determine that he, indeed, is your neighbor and, therefore, deserving of your attention. You’ll start by simply showing kindness to those whom God has placed in your path, just as he placed that wounded man in the path of the priest, of the Levite and of the Samaritan.