Who Is My Neighbour?
Dearly loved people of God,
In school, there’s a difference between squeaking a pass and truly throwing yourself into the learning. Here we have kind of the same: an expert in the law, clever at finding loopholes to exploit. He’s sure that he can fulfill God’s requirement to love his neighbour – just gotta define “neighbour” narrowly.
The expert in the law knows what God’s law requires to inherit eternal life. When Jesus turns his question back to him, the summary rolls off his tongue quickly :
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
If this sounds familiar, you might recall that Jesus quoted the same OT verses to summarize God’s law. This expert in God’s law seems to think he’s got this stuff in the bag.
Luke lets us know that the expert has an agenda. He’s trying to start something, so he asks the initial question as a test. His follow-up question is to justify himself – to prove that he’s doing things right, and deserves eternal life.
In order to make the benchmark for holiness more do-able, the expert in God’s law has created an idea who his neighbour is. Living up to God’s law is easier if you define limits to loving your neighbour, then do just enough to pass.
Jesus uses a parable, a story, that forces the expert in the law and all who hear this passage to do some thinking. This parable has become part of Canadian culture. When someone stops to help someone in trouble, journalists call her a “Good Samaritan.” “Good Samaritan Laws” aim to protect people from being sued when they offer First Aid or other help.
Maybe you didn’t know the term “good Samaritan” was taken from the Bible. Maybe you’ve heard this story repeatedly. Either way, it’s a good place to pause and reflect on what it means to truly love your neighbour.
The trip down to Jericho from Jerusalem is ±25 km as the crow flies. That’s like walking from here to Port Burwell, but it’s rough terrain Ä. It really is down hill: 1000 m. Here and Pt Burwell only descends 65 m. In this kind of sparsely inhabited terrain, robbery didn’t surprise anyone.
There are two surprises in this story. 1st, the priest and Levite in Jesus’ day didn’t stop and help. They are religious leaders and teachers. You’d expect them to help. Some people, hearing Jesus’ story might think that’s typical behaviour for religious folks. Lots of talk, but nothing in real life. Just a bunch of hypocrites.
What’s more, a priest and Levite are this expert’s type of people. He studied with them, debated with them, and went to dinner with them. In Jesus’ parable, the priest and Levite let the expert down. They didn’t even stop to see if the guy bleeding on the road was dead or alive.
The 2nd surprise comes when you meet the hero of the story. The Jews and Samaritans disliked each other strongly. “Hated each other” isn’t too strong. In Jesus’ day the hatred goes back at least 550 years to when the Jews returned from exile and found migrants on their land. You still see those dislikes in the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis – still trading insults and missiles. That’s why Jesus’ hero is so surprising to a Jewish audience.
Yet this Samaritan goes above and beyond what you’d expect in how thoroughly he cared for the victim:
· Bandaging wounds with oil and wine – good wound care!
· Walking to the inn, so the half-dead guy could ride
· Cares for him ‘til morning
· Care: 2 denarii = 2 days wages 2 X 8h/d @ $14 = $224
· If that’s not enough, he gives the innkeeper a blank cheque for anything else that’s needed.
It’s a pointed story for the expert in the law. It’s a pointed story for us. If this Samaritan sets the standard for what it looks like to love your neighbour, how are you doing?
On our good days we can be helpful and generous, but rarely do we take neighbourly love to the level the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable does. We need to raise our game if our neighbourly love is going to earn us eternal life. Oh and don’t forget you’ve also got to love God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind.
I’ve got to admit it: the Good Samaritan of Jesus’ story goes above and beyond what I’d usually do, esp. when I’m busy. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I suspect he out-loves all of us. Although God created humankind good and generous and loving, Adam & Eve’s disobedience changed human nature so that we don’t love God or neighbour as we ought to.
That’s a problem because God is holy and just. His nature requires sin to be paid for. The wages of sin are death: physical and eternal death instead of inheriting eternal life.
We could despair at this point. Jesus’ parable definitely silenced the expert in the law. He couldn’t even mention the nationality of the man who was so generously. He couldn’t bring himself to say out loud that it was a Samaritan who was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers. He was just honest enough to identify mercy in Jesus’ parable.
It is mercy that rescues the man who was left half dead on the road to Jericho. And it is mercy that helps us when we are convicted of falling short of what God requires. Jesus’ whole ministry is a rescue mission based on God’s great love and mercy for all humankind who are otherwise alone and dying.
And religious folks who aren’t willing to get their hands dirty or be generous aren’t much help to anyone. Jesus says so pretty bluntly in our Thursday reading:
And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
Jesus is different than experts in the law. His whole life, his whole body, is engaged in an effort to lift the burden of sin and death from those beaten down and left for dead in sin.
The generosity of the Good Samaritan is a picture of what Jesus has done for all people. Although he is God the Son, he humbled himself and became human – that’s the miracle of Christmas – God became human: fully God, fully human, and fully righteous. He entered the mess of life on earth, listening, touching, healing, loving the people around him.
In generosity, Jesus pays the price for us to become healthy and holy. The punishment we deserve for disobedience – the cost of our failure to love – was put on Jesus at the cross. He died the death we deserve so that we can inherit eternal life.
Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven gives us confidence. Jesus has conquered sin and death and has entered God’s presence. He’s the first human to enter God’s presence without fear since the fall into sin. His presence with God the Father is the assurance that we can stand before God without fear of judgement or death.
In the meantime, there is work to be done. Jesus has redeemed us by his generosity and grace, but we cannot just sit around waiting for Christ to return. We’ve been purified and given life in order to love God and neighbour with the generosity and love we’ve received from Jesus.
So what does this look like?
If you’ve been reading through Luke’s gospel as many in the congr. are doing, you may have noticed that this discussion with the expert in the law is told immediately following the 72 disciples reporting on their short-term mission trips. Jesus sent them to heal and proclaim the coming of God’s Kingdom. They were sent to meet physical and spiritual needs in their own neighbourhoods in Galilee.
We’ve been redeemed from sin and death in order to serve the Kingdom of God, we are sent by Jesus to bring healing and hope to our communities too. The question of “who is my neighbour affects the way we fulfill that mission:
· Those different from us are still our neighbours and deserving of our love
· Historical enemies = neighbours
· First Nations, Metis – last Sunday I spoke with a man who was Metis. Didn’t feel accepted in church because he wasn’t white enough to belong. Didn’t feel at home among First Nations b/c he wasn’t red enough.
· Refugees, migrants, foreigners, Muslims, Hindus = neighbours. It was a big discussion in some congregations looking at sponsoring refugees: can we sponsor a Muslim family? It’s really a question of, “are they my neighbour?”
This passage isn’t for us to tell others who their neighbour is. Jesus teaches us who our neighbour is, then calls us to love our neighbour with the same kind of love we’ve received from Jesus, who found us dead in sin, but made us alive in his resurrection.
Do you know anyone who is hurting, feeling beat up by life: Half dead and dying? What can you do to come to their aid?