This is a difficult lesson. I say that only because it is difficult for me. The subject of this lesson is about who qualifies to be our neighbor (neighbour), and what our responsibilities are in regards to how we treat them and how we feel about them. I encourage you to look inward at the mirror of your soul during this lesson to see what is being reflected back. Hopefully, what you see will reflect what you learn in your studies of Matthew 18, and Luke 10, the material for this lesson.
How we treat our neighbor is most often based on our society’s requirements. If we don’t like our neighbor, but society would frown on us spitting at them, we are forced to smile, even if it is weakly, and greet them with a “Hello.” Anything less would be frowned upon by the court of public opinion. This is why it is so important to look at how we feel about our neighbor. Once we get our feelings straightened out, the appropriate outward behavior should follow naturally.
In Luke 10 we read the parable about the good Samaritan. This parable teaches us, among other things, that anyone we meet is our neighbor, that we are expected by God to treat our neighbor as we would anyone else who is close to our hearts, that how we treat others has nothing to do with our social standing, and that even those we despise qualify fully for the treatment we would previously have thought to reserve for friends and relatives. These are some hard lessons to implement.
The Samaritans were considered polluted and apostate Jews (it was a historical grudge). They were considered to be so unclean that the Jews, rather than go from point A to point B through the land of Samaria, would go all the way around the long way to get to their destination, just to avoid having to deal with those unclean, half breed Jews in Samaria. Yet in the Lord’s story, it was one of these unclean souls that showed the greatest compassion on someone who would otherwise have despised and rejected him. Even the beaten down good Jew’s own priest and temple workers avoided having to deal with him because of the inconvenience of his condition. I mean, who wants to deal with a stripped down, half dead body on the side of the road? How inconvenient is that?!
But the Samaritan, the one the Jews felt they were far superior to, was the one who stopped and cleaned up the badly beaten man, dressed his wounds, carried him to an inn, paid for his lodgings and care until he was well, with the promise that if it cost more he would pay it when he returned to check up on the assaulted man. This probably had greater impact on the Jewish audience of Christ’s day than it does on us, since we don’t have too many people among us that we treat as badly as the Jews treated the Samaritans. At least I hope you don’t have any that you treat that way.
To me, the point of this parable is that the Lord does not look on the social standing of a soul when He looks at the heart. All He sees is one of His children. And one that is in need, at that. In the Lord’s eyes we are not separated by nationality, race, gender, any kind of orientation or financial standing. We are all equally loved in His eyes. This is what we need to learn to see as well.
Dealing with offense
In Matthew 18 the Lord seamlessly weaves multiple points into one unified sermon on how we should learn to feel about our neighbor, i.e. anyone we meet. He starts by addressing the apostle’s desire to be recognized for their role in the kingdom. He gently points out that they have it all backwards. We become great not through the praises of others or because we hold high office, as is the way of the world, but in the Lord’s kingdom the one who is held in highest esteem is he or she who learns to become the servant of all, as Christ is the servant of all. It is God who rewards and exalts people. People don’t get to exalt each other. What God values the most is the service rendered in the process of saving His children and bringing them home. In exchange for this service He will exalt us to the highest levels of heaven. That is how much our neighbor (i.e. everyone with whom we come into contact) means to Him.
First, we must humble ourselves as children are humble. Children are non-judgmental in that they don’t look on the surface and decide on worthiness. They don’t even base their willingness to love based on how others treat them. How many children still love their abusive siblings or parents? Children accept direction with trust and a willingness to obey. They want to imitate their parents, and seek their approval and attention. The list is very long. Can we say that we have become this way with our Father in Heaven?
Second, we need to be careful not to be the ones who offend or cause others to stumble and fall. The warning for those who hurt God’s children in this way is dire indeed. But the Lord is not just talking about little children only. If I am the cause of any of His children stumbling in the gospel or in life because I have hurt them in some way or have refused to teach them of our Father’s mercy, then I have caused them to be exposed to Satan’s teachings needlessly, and I will have to answer for that neglect or misbehavior. My neighbor is His child as much as I am. If I cause my neighbor to stumble or refuse to share God’s love with him or her, I will be held responsible for causing that person to stumble before the Lord and I am held responsible for that offense to God.
Third, we must be forgiving of our neighbor. In the immortal words of a popular cold song, “Let it go!” Holding on to hurt does not hurt the one who caused the hurt, it only damages us. But letting go of the pain is more difficult than just saying we need to do so. Letting go of hurt, shame, and guilt caused by the actions of others requires an exercise of faith in Christ’s atonement. We need to trust that He will be able to make all things right, and that through Christ’s love we can and will be made whole again. He has already suffered and bled for that offense. Give it to Him and let Him bear the weight of it. There is no need for us to try to reinvent the wheel when we are already being driven around in a luxury car.
Fourth, we need to remember that no matter what we think of the sins of those who hurt us, our own far outweigh theirs. Sometimes we forget that the laws that have been violated by sin are not our laws, but God’s. The offense, though it may impact us in a negative way, is to God, not us. It is His laws that have been violated. It is His child who has been hurt. So to us He says we must forgive and let it go. The offender will have to answer to God for what was done, not us. We have no right to hold a grudge or be self righteous about an offense. The Lord has every right. If we are to be forgiven of our own offenses toward God then He requires that we learn to let the sins of our neighbor be His business, not ours. That is why we must forgive seventy times seven, or in other words, always.
I hope you can see why I find this lesson so difficult. This lesson shows me so many places in my life where I am lacking and where I need to improve. I hope your look into the mirror of your soul has revealed a cleaner, healthier person than what I have seen this day.
The beautiful image of the Salt Lake Temple above was taken by Tyler Smith and can be found at this address: http://websmith.tv/wintry-temple-square/