To be a Lutheran is to live a life of conflict. We find ourselves in a society that has little use for God’s goodness but seeks good itself, desiring to be good people, do good things, be good friends, do good works. Society is intrigued by what it thinks is good, and we can’t blame it.
But what the culture has a hard time understanding is what is actually good for mankind. It has ceased to believe in God’s wrath and in His love. It rejects His existence when it is convenient and shuns its own existence as well. It no longer believes that men and women are fearfully and wonderfully made but instead says that they are harmful to ecosystems, detrimental to careers and useless depending on capacity or size. God called His creation good, but man says otherwise.
As Christians, though, we know what is good. We know that men cannot survive apart from their Creator and that good cannot endure apart from Him either. And so we live in a paradox. We know that Christ is the ultimate good, and yet we live among those who would seek to find and define it outside of Him.
We hear mankind’s persistent questions: “Who is my neighbor? What good can I do him? And better still, what good work will make me feel good about myself? What must I do to be saved?” And we watch as people desperately seek ways to gain their worth and calm their fears by doing.
Seeing this, we instead return to our youth, to the Sunday School story of the Good Samaritan. With the world, we think we already know the answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?” and we joyfully chorus, “Everyone!” But our Lord reminds us that the question is not “Who is my neighbor?” but “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man?” (Luke 10:36).
This stops us in our tracks, for suddenly we cease to be the neighbor. We are no longer doing good but receiving what is good. We are not neighbors but are neighbored to. There is only one Neighbor, and He is not us. He is the lone, single Neighbor who does what recycling and soup kitchens and guilty consciences cannot. He saves the man assaulted by robbers, binds up his wounds, and cares for him. He shows mercy. He does the ultimate good.
So it is that we then hear Jesus say, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:27). And we do. But the going is not the work of the world or us. It is, in fact, no work at all. It is not the Shriners or the Red Cross or Habitat for Humanity. It is passive. It receives. It is Christ who cares for the homeless, the poor, the dying, and the sick. He is the one who shows compassion. He is the one who gives mercy. He is the one who does good.
It is with that confidence we tell the world, “The question is not ‘Who is my neighbor?’ but ‘Who is Christ’s neighbor?’” And in that question, we can respond with absolute certainty, ‘Everyone!”