But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:29-37)
In context, this parable is given to illustrate the question, "Who is my neighbor?" A teacher of the Law had apparently witnessed Jesus' authoritative pronouncement after the return of the 70 from their evangelistic mission, and intended to test His understanding. In v. 29, it is revealed that his test was insincere, for he "desired to justify himself" when his conscience convicted him.
Contrasting this story with a very similar one brings to light the other side of the coin again:
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Mark 12:28-34)
This time a scribe asks Jesus what is most important, and He responds with the same scriptures the teacher of the Law quoted, Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18. The scribe agrees, and Christ tells him he is not far from the Kingdom of God.
While works of righteousness which we have done can't justify us before God, (Titus 3:5), they do reveal our allegiances. It's very easy for me to congratulate myself that I "love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, strength and mind" and that "I love my neighbor as myself," apart from evidence to the contrary, for I have a tendency to equate pleasant emotions and good intentions with genuine love. Jesus' example describes a situation in which the "wise and prudent" (Luke 10:21) passed by, and the man who would have been unskilled in the Word and the proper religious practices was moved with real compassion toward a stranger. This reminds me that Christlike love is costly and difficult. The recipients are unable to repay it in kind, and they require help again and again. Such actions are the fruit of justification and not the root cause of it. Likewise, impatience towards others who stand in need of costly grace and mercy may well reveal, just as Christ Himself said, that ultimate truth has been hidden from us, or at the very least, that we are among those whose love has grown cold. (Matthew 24:12)
How easy it would be for me to preserve myself by being emotionally detached, keep my family and resources "safe" by not being involved with those in trouble. This is mercilessly and pitilessly expecting others to find help another way or pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Something I'm certainly unable to do. Thank God for the mirror of His Word, which continually shows me where my heart is in relation to Him. I want it to be tender and not "preserved" - and I want this for my family as well. May no one among my family and friends preserve their "world" and comfort zone and lose their own soul.