Who Is My Neighbor?-September 1, 2013
Scripture: Luke 10:25-37
I did not realize when I chose the Good Samaritan Story out of Luke 10 that this was the week marking the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington D.C. and Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech. One memorable line was when he said that a man should not be by the color of his skin but the content of his character.
This too is the issue in the story of the Good Samaritan. A religious lawyer wanted to test Jesus and asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life? Jesus flips the script and asks the man what is the law, how do you interpret it? He gives a an answer about loving God and loving our neighbors. Jesus says that’s a great answer now do it and you will live.
He wanted to push the issue and asked then who is my neighbor? Jesus tells a story before asking the man another question. Racism is not new, the Jews did not see the Samaritans as people. They were a mixed race and were referred to by the Jews as dogs, and their hatred was so bad that they would walk around Samaria just to not have to walk through their land.
The story is about a man beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Two men a priest and a Levite both see the man and walk to the other side of the street to avoid the man in need. A third man comes along, a Samaritan, and sees the man and has pity on him. He performs first-aid, puts him on his ride, takes him to the next town, puts him in a hotel, takes care of him overnight, pays for a few more days, and tells the innkeeper he will pay whatever extra is needed when he comes back through town.
Jesus then asks the “expert” so who was this man’s neighbor? The man responds the one that showed mercy. Jesus says go and do likewise.
A few important things…the law expert had all the right answers but not a right heart and Jesus exposes that with his story. In fact, the man could not bear to say “Samaritan” and instead said the one that showed mercy. He spoke of love but did not have it in his heart. Within the story the first two saw the man in need but not themselves and in doing so left him there. The Samaritan saw the man and saw that he himself could be in need and has pity.
Jesus confronts in the story the problem with knowing all the right answers but not living rightly. The content of the character of a man of different skin color confronted the religious expert with idea that his own words of love were betrayed by his anger and lack of living the out. The “right” answers were robbed of their power, and may as well have been dead because they did not give life.
On one occasion an expert of the law stood up to test Jesus. This “expert” of the law was not really there to learn anything from Jesus, in fact it was quite the opposite. This man sought to bring glory to himself and possible shame to Jesus. Jesus sees to the heart of this many very quickly. It is interesting that Jesus already knows our hearts even before we speak. Since this man was an “expert” Jesus turns the question on him and asks the man to interpret. Although he didn’t really want Jesus’ answer the man’s question remains and is a good one, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” It also seems to follow in the same vein as “what does God want or expect of me?” It is these type of questions that I think we are all asking or in our hearts really want to know the answers to.
In this instance the “expert” rushes to give the easy answer without considering the implications. So many times we want the easy quick answer, but the true path to wisdom here is not that we “know” the right answer but rather that we live it out in our daily lives. He is confronted in this parable with the difference between the religious “right answers” and the right living in relationships with others that bless and give life.
This story expresses another truth when we are looking for the answers for questions, we should not settle for the easy answers or someone else’s answers but we must seek God’s answers, most often the questions are for us anyways. Like how to live in a right relationship with God and with others? No fine points of theology or doctrine matter if we know all the answers but forget that the spirit of these things come back to relationships.
Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 13:2 “if I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Jesus himself said that all of the law and Prophets could be summed up in this, love God and others. Too often today religious experts want to know where you stand on a particular issue instead of how is your relationship with others.
Many in the world today want to know how to inherit eternal life. But they are content with a quick response that either does or does not match up with God’s standard and the value is different between knowing the right answer and living rightly. We too often wan the easy answer because it is much easier to “be” right than to live “righteous.” There is a reason this is called discipleship. It takes discipline to live this out daily and to crucify the desires of the flesh and seek the desires of God. The temptations of the flesh do not ease up we must continue to seek His way. The subversion of the flesh is often couched in religious legalism rather than religious life.
Jesus confirms what the man has said but also confirms the need not just to recite a rule, but to be a live it out in our daily lives. “Do this and you will live.” It is much easier to memorize laws, rules, and expectations, than it is to live by them. How many of us have either accidentally or on purpose driven faster than the speed limit? No need for a show of hands we know that the speed limit is the law and there are many reminders of this law all along the road side, yet sometimes we break the speed limit. It is easier to know that is the law and sometimes harder to practice. Have you or someone you know ever said to their children, “do as I say and not as I do?” The scary implication is that we want to hold children to a higher standard that an adult.
In this story the “expert” offered a correct, valid, and easy answer. The “expert” then asks the deeper question so “who is my neighbor?” This time Jesus does not answer with a question but with a life lesson. It exposes the religious façade that his hateful heart was trying to hide. Most of us have lived in our homes and communities of a number of years and we know our neighbors. Perhaps if we know them and don’t like them we might move out of our neighborhood to a new neighborhood. Others may remain and sigh and wonder whatever happened to this neighborhood? Most of the world lives in and around people they are familiar with or feel comfortable with. Communities or neighborhoods typically have people who are somewhat alike socially, economically, or even have similar beliefs.
We generally gravitate to people who are like us and enjoy the same things we do. Jesus’ life lesson, cuts to the heart of the matter. He begins with “there was a man going on a journey when he fell into the hands of robbers.” They left him naked, beaten up, and half-dead on the side of the highway. Sure there were people coming and going perhaps one of them might help this poor man.
Jesus doesn’t tell us why the man was taking the journey. It could have been on business or a vacation but when we travel most often we carry things with us, and often more money too. Our minds are either on the business we will need to do when we get there or the good time we will have on vacation. Robbers and thieves also know this and so the man was attacked, taken advantage of, and left for dead.
This was in fact a busy well-traveled road and we do not know any others or how many passed by before he received help. Jesus mentions three by generic identifiers to expose specific stereotypes a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan.
Before we jump to conclusions it is possible that seeing the man had been beaten, robbed, and left for dead, could leave any of these three with the idea that this could happen to them. The robbers could be lying in wait for the next person to let come and help. It was not uncommon for people in their day and time to travel together for companionship and safety. With that said, would not the same though be, if this had happened to me would I not want someone to help?
A priest passed by and the scripture says, he saw the man and passed by on the other side. Not wanting to get too close to the man. The priest wanted to avoid the man. He did not want the immediate inconvenience or the long-term responsibility. Touching or coming in contact with blood requires an extra cleaning ritual because a Jew would be considered ceremonially unclean. He did not want to be inconvenienced to help a dying man.
Before we rush to judge, how many of us see our friends, neighbors, or strangers in the gutter physically or spiritually and do not take the time to get them back to health. Remember it is the gospel that gives life. If we are unwilling to see the hurting, the dead, and the lost in our midst and do nothing about it, there will be no fine point of doctrine that will be a good enough excuse.
A Levite too, saw him and crossed by on the other side. People who were in the instruction of the Lord and in charge of caring for others chose not to help. These two the priest and a Levite would have been the ones you would have thought could, should, and would have helped, but they didn’t. How about you and I does the seriousness of the need take priority in the lives of the believers? Does a neighbor have to be someone we know or live nearby or are they the people God has put in our path wherever they are and we might be.
A third man, a Samaritan, hated because of the color of his skin demonstrated the content of His character. When the Samaritan saw the man, he took pity on him. He went over bandaged his wounds, giving him first-aid, putting the man on his donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he pays the innkeeper for the room and for a few more days asking the man to look after him, if it costs more than what he has already given he will pay the rest upon his return.
Jesus then asks the “expert,” which of these three do you think was the man’s neighbor? The “expert” must have been angry, because this story exposed the hatred in his heart for the Samaritans. Even after he had so eloquently recited the law about love, he cannot bear to even say the word Samaritan. He instead responds, “the one who had mercy on him.” Jesus tells him, “Go and do likewise.”
In other words there comes a time where we must do more than give right answers and start living right. This story confronts all of us in so many ways. Are we like the “expert,” wanting to have Christian debates while people are dying physically and spiritually in the real world? Are we like for first two, who also where religious and plainly say the need but could not see themselves in the poor man on the side of the road? Or are we like the third man who upon seeing someone hurt and having the means to help, did so? It didn’t matter if this man was not from the same town; country; race; or church, the Samaritan upon seeing the man in need, saw himself, and had pity.
The Samaritan defined a neighbor not by race, nationalism, or proxy but by the depth of the need. Love that can easily be reciprocated is called a favor. Love gives out of the compassion for our fellow-man and is always in proportion to the first love, God. Those who struggle to love God deeply will love others in a shallow self-seeking way.
My prayer is that we grow in love of God so that we may be moved with pity to show love and mercy to others. My prayer is also that our faith won’t be about memory verses and reciting the book but in living it out daily. It would be better to not have all the “right” answers or complete knowledge but to live out the parts we do know well.
The lawyer treated the wounded man as a topic of discussion; the robbers, as an object to exploit; the priest, as a problem to avoid; and the Levite, as an object of curiosity. Only the Samaritan treated him as a person to love.
From the parable we learn three principles about loving our neighbor: (1) Lack of love is often easy to justify, even though it is never right; (2) our neighbor is anyone of any race, creed, or social background who is in need; and (3) love means acting to meet the person’s need. Wherever you live, there are needy people close by. There is no good reason not to help.
“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8