Today’s selected reading continues in the Old Testament prophetic book of Malachi, and more specifically, begins with the tenth verse of the second chapter, and continues through to the sixth and final verse of the fourth chapter. As this passage of Scripture opens, it does so with the Lord of hosts asking a very pointed and powerful question—one that strikes at the very heart of Israel’s perception of the Lord their God. In the tenth verse the Lord asks Israel “Have we not all one father? Hath not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?” (Malachi 2:10). In all reality, there are three distinct questions that open up this particular passage in Scripture—each striking at the very heart of Israel’s perception of the Lord, as well as their perception of each other. The first question the Lord asks Israel is one concerning the concept of father, for He asks them if they don’t all have one father. The Lord then proceeds to ask Israel regarding one God creating them, which is immediately followed up by the Lord asking why men and women deal treacherously every man against his brother. I can’t help but find the words that are contained within this particular verse to present a tremendous challenge to us within this generation—a challenge that quite honestly has been present within the earth throughout history. Imagine what life would be like if we began viewing those around—not only as brothers and sisters, but also as having the same Father as us. Imagine what this generation would be like if we recognized and began asking ourselves concerning one God creating us all? Consider what life could and would be like if we began viewing those around us having the same father as us, and as being created by the same God who created us. It’s worth noting that immediately after the Lord asks the question concerning having one father, and then the question regarding one God creating all, He then proceeds to use familial language, as He proceeds to ask why we deal treacherously every man against their brother.In all reality, I am convinced that if we lose sight of the reality that we all have one Father, and that we were all created by one God, our perception and view of those around us will be dramatically altered. Tell me—how often do you walk down the street of your town or city and view those whom you interact with as your brother and/or sister? Over the past year I have worked in two major cities within the continental United States—the city of Boston in Massachusetts, and the city of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. Each and every day I encounter a number of individual—almost from the moment I walk out my front door. Between the shuttle ride I occasionally take from my development to the local train station, to the actual train ride into the city, to even passing by others on the sidewalks and crosswalks of the city, I encounter a vast nu number of men and women on a daily basis. What’s more, is that when you factor in what I do for work—both those I interact with who are not employees, as well as those who are employees—I have to add an even larger number of individuals who I encounter on a daily basis. It is also necessary to take into consideration the vast number of individuals who I pass by while walking on my lunch break, as well as waiting to enter into work every morning. Pause for a moment and imagine what would happen if you began keeping a running record of how many individuals you physically en countered on a daily basis, and how many individuals you indirectly encountered whether passing by them on the sidewalks and crosswalks of the city, or perhaps standing in line to get your coffee at your favorite coffee shop. What about those who are in front of you in the line to order your lunch, or those behind you in the same line. We speak an awful lot of keeping a running record and ledger of the money coming in and the money going out of our account on a daily basis, but what would happen if we began keeping a running record or running ledger—not of currency, but of individuals. KEEPIGN A RUNNING RECORD OF PEOPLE! Taking this a step further, where I work in the city, I sit in front of a window on a busy street and see countless men and women walk in front of my window each and every day. This isn’t even to mention all those who pass by driving in their cars, or in various other vehicles on a daily basis.
Now, you might wonder what any of this has to do with the words that are found within the prophetic book of Malachi, and in order to truly present you with that reality, it’s necessary to journey into the New Testament—specifically to a time when Jesus was tempted concerning which was the greatest commandment in the Law. In the twenty-second chapter of the New Testament book of Matthew we find one of the Pharisees who was also a lawyer coming unto Jesus with a question, in which he hoped to tempt him. This is the account between Jesus and that particular lawyer: “But when the Pharisees had heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked Him a question, tempting Him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:34-40). Permit me to be so bold as to ask this question—first of myself, and then of you: How well do you love the Lord your God? If the single greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, how well are you actually fulfilling this commandment? What does your love for the Lord your God truly and actually look like, and if your love for God was measured in currency each day—how much are you spending on a daily basis? How much are you investing, and how much have you invested in loving the Lord your God with everything you have inside of you? What’s more, is that you cannot and must not stop there, for Jesus didn’t merely stop with speaking of the greatest commandment, but He also proceeded to speak of the second greatest commandment as well—namely, loving your neighbor as yourself. What’s more, is that if we are truly honest with ourselves we have to admit that one cannot truly and/or properly love their neighbor without first and properly loving the Lord. Our love for and toward our neighbor should directly flow forth from our love for the Father, and is a reality which the apostle John wrote about in his first epistle to the Ephesian congregation.
In the third chapter of the New Testament epistle of John to the Ephesian congregation we find John speaking about these two great commandments, and how they are directly linked and connected to each other. We must recognize and realize that John was one of the twelve disciples and was present when Jesus was approached by the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law, the scribes, and those who came unto Him to tempt Him. John was aware of the need to ensure our love for and toward God was aright within our hearts and lives, and then from and flowing out of that love we love our neighbors as ourselves. John recognized and understood the tremendous importance of loving our neighbors, and how even loving our neighbors is a direct manifestation of our love for the Lord. Consider the words and language that is found in the third chapter of his first epistle to the Ephesians: “For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous. Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. We know that we have passed from death unto life, becase we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him” (1 John 11-19). Earlier on in the same epistle we find the apostle John writing these words concerning and regarding our relationship to our brethren: “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9-11). Toward the end of the fourth chapter of the same epistle we read these words regarding our love for the brethren: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?: And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-21).
The words which we find within the first epistle of John to the Ephesian congregation not only reveal the direct connection between loving our neighbor and loving God, but also loving our neighbor is connected to being in the light. John emphatically declares that we cannot profess we are in the light if we not only do not love our brother, but also if we hate our brother. What’s more, is that John goes on to declare that anyone who hates their brother is actually a murderer, which is a statement that was connected to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount when He spoke of hating our brother. The apostle John boldly declared that we cannot truly say we love the Lord our God if we do not and cannot love our brother. John proceeds to ask the question how we can say we love God whom we can’t see when we can’t even love our brother whom we do see. Furthermore, the apostle John encourages, exhorts and instructs us to not merely love in word, but also in deed and in action. The apostle John did not believe that loving others in word was enough, for anyone can express their love toward and for another in word only, and yet their deeds reflect a completely different picture. The apostle John firmly believed that one could not truly state that they love God, and yet each and every day they persist in hating their neighbor and/or their brother and sister. This is actually quite interesting to consider, for I can’t help but wonder how many men and women enter into the house of the Lord week in and week out and through their worship profess love for the Father, and yet within their heart they harbor hatred toward their brother and/or sister. I can’t help but think about how many men and women enter into the house of the Lord and profess their love for and toward the Lord of hosts, and yet they have a very difficult time loving their brother and/or sister. What about you? Do you find it difficult to love your brother and your sister? Please note that I am not merely speaking about those who worship next to you each week during Sunday morning service. Please note that I am not speaking about those who claim and profess to be Christians whom you refer to as brothers and sisters. What would happen if you began viewing each and every individual you encountered on a daily, weekly and monthly basis as your brother and sister—regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, language, and the like? Imagine what would happen in our culture and society if we viewed each and every one we encountered equally—as brothers and sisters. Think about what our culture and society would look and be like if we started treating everyone we encounter as our own natural and biological brother and sister. How many of us would actually do physical harm and damage to our own brother or sister, yet we feel and believe we can mistreat, do violence, disrespect, degrade, and belittle those around us. Do you treat those around you whom you encounter on a daily basis as your neighbor, and even as your brother or sister? Do you treat those whom you work with, and those whom you encounter at your workplace as you would your own brother and sister?
There is a particular reference found within the New Testament when Jesus teaches a parable unto the crowds in order to display and reveal who is indeed and who is in fact our neighbor. In the tenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Luke we find a certain lawyer standing up before Jesus and tempting Him by asking, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Beginning with the twenty-fifth verse of this passage of Scripture we read of this lawyer’s attempt to tempt Jesus, and Jesus’ response to his actions. “And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted Him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? HE said unto him, What is written in the law? How readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and they neighbor as thyself. And He said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:25-37).
As I sit here and consider this particular parable, I am struck on multiple different levels. When Jesus began speaking this parable, He did so with the express purpose and intention of responding to this lawyer’s question concerning who was his neighbor. IN order to reveal to this lawyer who his neighbor was, Jesus taught a parable about a man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, yet who along the way was seized upon by thieves who not only robbed him, but also left him half dead. When I consider this particular traveler who fell prey to thieves and was not only robbed, but also left half dead, I am curious as to his level of consciousness and awareness of what was taking place around him. Was this traveler aware of his surroundings and those who passed by him in that particular state? Scripture reveals how after this man was robbed, beaten and left half dead, both a priest and Levite came upon him, yet both had two completely different responses. Within the parable Jesus reveals how the priest walked on the opposite side of the road without paying any mind or attention to this man who had clearly been the victim of tremendous violence. The Levite on the other hand actually came close to this man, looked upon him, and yet proceeded to pass by on the other side. I can’t help but wonder what the priest and the Levite were doing that they found themselves on the same path as this lone traveler. If both the priest and the Levite found themselves on the same path as this man—traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho—I can’t help but wonder if they were traveling from the Temple. If in fact they were traveling from the Temple, then it adds even more weight and significance to what we read here. Imagine both a priest and a Levite having just come from ministering before the Lord in His holy Temple and sanctuary, and after they had finished their ministry before the Lord, they came upon a man who had fallen victim and prey to violence and thievery. This brings us to the question of how many needs we come upon and encounter as we leave the sanctuary and house of God and proceed to journey home. How many times have we left the house of God on a Sunday morning, and have either traveled to eat at a restaurant, or get home to watch whatever sports game is on, or perhaps even to have a lazy Sunday, and yet on our way from the house of God we encounter a horrific accident, or some tragic need that has just taken place, and yet instead of responding to what has unfolded before us, we pass by on the other side. Consider how many men and women travel from the house of God each and every Sunday, and yet upon their departure from the house of God it would seem their compassion and bowels of mercy have remained behind. I am absolutely amazed that not only a priest, but also a Levite chose to pass by on the other side of the road while this men continued to lie on the side of the road half dead.
Upon reading this particular passage of Scripture you will most certainly encounter the reality that while Jesus answered the question which this lawyer asked, He didn’t really answer it at all—at least not according to the desire and wish of this man. This lawyer asked who his neighbor was, and yet through this parable Jesus proceeded not to tell this man who his neighbor was, but rather how this man should be a neighbor to others. This is actually quite remarkable when we think about it, for I would dare say that we spend more time focusing on who our neighbors are rather than our being a neighbor to those around us. Jesus taught this parable—not to answer this lawyer’s question concerning who his neighbors were, but rather how this man should serve as a neighbor to those around him. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we pay close attention to this, for I am convinced that if we spend more time focusing on who our neighbors are, we allow ourselves to get caught up in the trap of being selfish, self-centered and self-seeking, When we choose to focus on who our neighbors are rather than our being a neighbor to others, we begin to look at and view those around us being able to, and perhaps even needing to serve our own needs, desires and wants. There is a growing tendency, and a strong temptation to spend our time, effort and energy looking around for who is, and who can be our neighbor, rather than focusing on how we can be a neighbor to others. There was an old children’s show that was on the television called Mr. Rogers, and perhaps the catch phrase and foundation of the entire show was centered upon one line in the show’s theme song—“Won’t you be my neighbor?” I can’t help but wonder how often, and how many times we spend our time and energy asking others if they are willing to be our neighbor without every taking the time to ask if we will be a neighbor to them. We must understand that we cannot expect another individual to be our neighbor if we ourselves aren’t willing to first be their neighbor. What’s more, is how can we even begin to expect another to be a neighbor unto us unless we are willing to invest ourselves as their neighbor within their own life. I can’t help but think about the concept of neighbor in terms of actually moving into a neighborhood. If you are a husband and wife and you are considering moving to another town or city within your state, or perhaps even within another state, one of the things you most likely look at is the neighborhood in which you live. If you are a parent—regardless of how many kids you have—you most certainly look at and examine the neighborhoods in the locations you are interested in moving, because want to make sure you raise your children in a neighborhood that will help them grow up and mature. Think about how much time, effort and energy we spend in focusing on the quality and type of neighborhood we are potentially moving to, and how it directly impacts and affects our decision to move there.
ARE YOU WILLING TO MOVE INTO MY NEIGHBORHOOD? This is the question I am finding myself asking right now as I am sitting here considering this concept of being a neighbor. There are those who look at and examine certain neighborhoods and allow the neighborhood to dictate and determine whether or not they will move there with their family, yet how many men and women will choose to move to a neighborhood—not from what they can get from the neighborhood, but what they can invest into the neighborhood? In other words, we make it a regular habit to move to a neighborhood based on how that neighborhood can best suit and meet our needs, while we completely neglect and ignore what we can bring to that neighborhood. Taking the words of Jesus’ parable, I am convinced that Jesus wasn’t so much in revealing to this lawyer who his neighbor was, for He knew that so long as this man focused on who his neighbor was, he would never take the time to be a neighbor to those around him. It is very easy to look for neighbors around us who can meet our needs and assist in our wants, yet never take the time focus on how we can be a neighbor to others. IF you think about it, Jesus didn’t even answer this lawyer’s question, for the lawyer asked Jesus who his neighbor was. Jesus was more concerned with whether or not this man was willing to be a neighbor to others rather than always expecting from others. It is an incredibly dangerous place for us to be in when we constantly live in a place where we expect from others rather than being willing to give. I began this particular paragraph with a question—are you willing to move into my neighborhood—and I believe this question is one we must be willing to ask ourselves on a consistent and daily basis. The premise and foundation of this question is whether or not we are willing to move into the neighborhoods of others—in other words, invest ourselves as neighbors in the lives of others rather than always expecting them to move into our neighborhood. There is a great and growing need within my own life, and within the lives of others to not expect everyone else to move into our neighborhood in order to enhance our lives and our quality of living, but rather, to move into the neighborhoods of others and enhance their own lives and quality of living.
Jesus responded to the question this lawyer asked—not by revealing who his neighbor was, but by instructing him how to be a neighbor to those around him. Jesus knew and understood that this man may very well have spent a considerable amount of time focusing on what he could get from others without every making it a point to invest in the lives of those around him. Jesus taught this parable to challenge our thinking and perception about being a neighbor to those around us. Jesus wanted to directly challenge our need to always be accommodated by those around us without every taking the chance and time to focus on what they need within their lives. The apostle John wrote of loving both in word and deed rather than simply in word alone. The apostle John directly connected our loving others—not only with being in the light, but also in loving God whom we have not seen. John recognizes and understood that the love we display for and toward our neighbors was a direct manifestation of the love we have for the Lord. The question I have to ask you is whether or not you are willing to move into the neighborhoods of others—whether or not you are willing to allow yourself to invest in the lives of those around you. The parable of the good Samaritan is not necessarily about revealing who our neighbor us, but rather a direct confrontation to our own selfish, self-seeking and self-serving ways as we expect others to cater to our own needs, desires and wants. I am convinced that instead of us following in the same footsteps of this lawyer and asking who our neighbor is, we must instead ask how we can be a neighbor to those around us. I can’t help but be reminded of Jesus’ words which are found in the Sermon on the Mount, in which He describes how we should treat those around us: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). I must also consider the words which the apostle Paul wrote to the Roman congregation which are recorded for us in the thirteenth chapter of his epistle: “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13;8-10).