Klyne Snodgrass and Franz Leenhardt: No boundaries, nearness, and need

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But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29

“Jesus’ answer to the lawyer’s question turns out to be a negation of the question’s premise that there are boundaries to the definition of neighbor. The question “Who is my neighbor?” ought not to be asked. No thought is allowed that a human can be a non-neighbor. Franz Leenhardt’s often used statement is compelling: One cannot define one’s neighbor: one can only be a neighbor. We cannot say in advance who the neighbor is; rather, nearness and need define “neighbor.”

Klyne Snodgrass in Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008) 357.

Yesterday morning my daily office was thrown off by a set of urgent emails from Africa needing my attention. As a result, I went to church with anticipation that maybe I would hear thoughts worth sharing. That’s what happened.

In the Good Samaritan story, whilst the lawyer answered Jesus’ first question correctly, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” with loving God and neighbor, his follow up revealed his heart. He was trying to justify himself.

With Jesus’ reply we discover there are no boundaries or limits to the answer. Every human must see other humans as his or her neighbor. Leenhardt further defines it by nearness and need. Here are the implications for our generosity.

We get to serve the needs of neighbors that God brings near to our awareness. We do this not to justify ourselves but to show the love and care of God that is within us. Our role is merely to reflect God’s love to a watching world.

Two twists surface in the process. We cannot justify ourselves, and every person comes into view as a neighbor. So, loving God and neighbor appears as our reason for existence. God, help us reflect your love with no boundaries and rich generosity.