Scripture: Luke 10:25-37
This has been another very hard week to watch the news. In three consecutive days there were senseless killings which made international headlines in the United States, along with more suicide bombs in the Middle East.
The world has gone crazy. I’m not sure there is any other reason for it. Well, there is, but do we really want to go there and talk about it?
Do we really have a choice?
People have died in the United States because of racism. Black man, men who have contributed to schools, to their churches, to their families are dead because someone, and in these cases police officers, didn’t like something they said or how they moved.
These black men were going about their own business when a police officer, in a snap decision, decided they should be shot. Without evidence of a crime being made, without evidence of them being a danger to anyone else, they were shot. All because of the colour of their skin. And as much as we’d like to hope those were the only two incidents where it happened, it’s not the case.
Watching the news showed that black families are raising their children to be careful around police. They are raising children to not trust the police. They are teaching their children that if police are around, they shouldn’t be near.
What do we like to tell our children if they find themselves lost? We tell them to find a police officer, because we know they will help. Yet there is a large segment of society which tells them just the opposite. How is this right? How can this even be a thing?
And then we see more violence erupt when someone who has so much hate and fear, they are willing to shoot down police officers in the middle of a peaceful protest.
How is it that so many people now are responding with violence? How is it that revenge killing is an answer? How is it that here in western society, as a people who think we’re beyond barbaric violence, as a people who think we’re enlightened, as a people who think we’re the model for the rest of the world… how is it that it looks like we’re becoming a shoot first, ask questions later society?
And innocent lives are being taken. Good people are being killed because we don’t like the colour of their skin? Is that what we’re about now? I thought we were trying to get past all this.
Jesus in our reading this morning is sitting around with some folks and a lawyer gets up to ask a question. But this is not a lawyer like we think of lawyers today. This is not someone who represents people in court, it’s not someone you go to see when you want to sue someone.
In the time of Jesus, a lawyer is someone who is very well versed in scripture. He is an expert on the “rules” as laid out in the Old Testament. That is his area of expertise, it is his job to understand what was written and how to interpret it.
This lawyer is seeking a greater understanding of what it means to gain eternal life. It seems as though, while he knows all the rules, he isn’t quite sure he has a grasp of the concept of eternal life. So he stands up and asks a question.
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus doesn’t need an introduction, he knows who this is asking the question, so he turns the question back on the man, by asking him what he knows. “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
And so the lawyer answers. He says, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.”
The answer he gives is from two different parts of the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 6:5 says this, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”
We might think, “So what? This is just cherry-picking some scripture that sounds good.”
But it seems this is an important thing to remember, because if you keep reading the next view verses, you read this,
Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)
So yes, it seems it is very important to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength. These words are supposed to be the fabric of who we are, never forgetting them, continually reminding ourselves of this. Teaching them to our children and talking about them in our homes and everywhere else.
So the lawyer got that part right.
The second part of his answer comes from Leviticus 19:18. Leviticus 19:17-18 says this,
You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
This too sounds pretty important. In fact, both of them must be because Jesus mentions them himself in Matthew 22 when he’s asked what the greatest commandment,
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Another lawyer asking an important question so he can understand the laws better.
So, back to the Gospel of Luke, when the lawyer responds to the question from Jesus about what he reads in the law as to how to gain eternal life, Jesus tells him he has responded appropriately and encourages him by saying, “do this, and you will live.”
But there’s a question lingering in the back of his mind that won’t let him go. So he asks a follow-up question, “And who is my neighbour?”
That’s a valid question. When I look at my street, how far down to I need to go before I can consider someone no longer my neighbour? Is it one house? Two? Five? A block? What about the street behind me? Are they my neighbours too? Is there some sort of magical circle where there’s a certain radius where people are no longer my neighbours?
The lawyer wants to know! He’s the one who instructs people on the laws, so he needs to be able to tell them who their neighbours are.
So, who is my neighbour?
That’s enough of a question to launch Jesus into a story, a parable. A story that many of us have probably heard at some point.
Jesus starts by situating the story on a well known road from Jerusalem to Jericho. It’s a steep, long road between the two cities as you head down the mountain from Jerusalem. It’s also a very dangerous road, known to be frequented by bandits. This road is also known by another name, “the way of blood”.
Sounds like a great tourist destination doesn’t it?
The story begins as the listeners would expect. A man, walking alone down this dangerous road is attacked, robbed, and left for dead.
We then read of three passers-by. The first two are religious leaders, but they pass on by, keeping a safe distance between them and the fallen man. Now why would they pass by? We can’t be entirely sure. It could be they are worried about becoming unclean by touching a body. They may be in a hurry to get somewhere. Maybe they think it’s a trap and there are robbers hoping they will stop so they can ambush them?
But they pass right on by, whatever their reason.
Then comes along a third man, the man is a Samaritan. The audience would be fully expecting this man to continue down the path. There’s no way a Samaritan would stop to help anyone. Samaritans are hated, they are evil, they have no redeeming values at all.
This is of course, when Jesus pulls the switch on their expectations. The hated Samaritan becomes the hero. He is the one who shows compassion and pity for the fallen man. He attempts to clean and bandage the wounds, which means he tore his own clothing in order to provide tourniquets for the man’s injuries.
He lifted the injured man onto his animal and carried him down the road to an inn where he could provide better care for him. After spending the night caring for the man, the Samaritan got up the next morning to continue on his journey, but before he goes he instructs the inn-keeper to take care of him, promising to repay any expenses he incurs in doing so.
The Samaritan, the evil, hated Samaritan has gone above and beyond the call of duty in caring for this severely injured man, a stranger.
At the end of the story, Jesus once again asks the lawyer a question. “Which of the three was a neighbour?”
The lawyer can’t even bring himself to say the name ‘Samaritan’. He says, “The one who showed him mercy.”
And how does Jesus respond? “Go and do likewise.”
What has Jesus done here? It started with what seemed to be a simple question, “Who is my neighbour?” What are the limits as to who qualifies as my neighbour? The lawyer was seeking where to draw the line. Where can he stop considering someone to be his neighbour? How many houses? How many feet down the street before someone stops being my neighbour?
What happened was Jesus changed the question.
The question, “Who is my neighbour?” has become “Who can I be a neighbour to?”
For the Pharisee and the Levite, this stranger lying on the side of the road was someone they could ignore because he wasn’t their neighbour. They didn’t know him, he didn’t qualify as a neighbour. So they were right in passing him by.
But the Samaritan didn’t think that way. He saw a man in need of help, he didn’t ask himself “Is he my neighbour?” He jumped in to do whatever he could to help the man, going above and beyond all expectations.
Jesus is showing us that being a neighbour is not about geography, it’s about service. It’s about seeing someone in need and helping them out as best we can. Who can we be a neighbour to?
It’s not about who we know. It’s not “Joe next door needs me, I’ll be back later.”
It’s, “There’s a family who have no food, what can I do to help?”
It’s, “There’s an addict on the street, what can I do to help?”
It’s, “People are being killed because of the colour of their skin, what can I do to help?”
It’s about standing up for people who have no voice; for people who have a target on their back and cannot remove it themselves; for people who others see as an inconvenience.
Jesus did this all the time. And he’s driving it home with the parable of the Good Samaritan. You want to have eternal life? Go and be like the Samaritan. Go help people.
That’s how you live out the law which says, “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 your neighbor as yourself.”
You want to know what that looks like? Well here’s the story of the Good Samaritan which makes it pretty clear. That’s how you live it out.
Remember when people used to pick up hitchhikers? Not that long ago if you were hitchhiking, you knew you wouldn’t have to wait long before you were picked up. Now it seems like you rarely ever see someone get picked up. It’s not deemed safe any more. What if they’re an axe murderer? They could be dangerous?
And I’m not sure why anyone would even consider hitchhiking any more. What sort of people pick up hitchhikers? They could be some sort of predator themselves!
The world feels like an incredibly dangerous place right now. Young black men getting shot by police officers! Of all the people in the community you should feel safe around, it should be the police! Yet for black Americans they can’t say that. You wonder if they ever could have said it.
Society is so fear driven right now it’s amazing how anyone ever gets any help. We live in a world where people are expecting someone to be carrying a gun, and it’s the same fear which compels people to fight for the right to have assault rifles in their homes.
Does this sound at all like loving your neighbour?
I dream of a world where we are all neighbours. A day when we can live in peace and not in fear. A day when we can be moved to help people out of compassion and not hold back because of our fears.
Remember when we used to be able to leave our cars and our homes unlocked? Fear has changed us and our neighbourhoods.
Remember when we used to push our children out the door and remind them they should be home before dark? Fear has changed us and our neighbourhoods.
Our definition of neighbour has become much smaller now. We used to know who lived on our street. We sometimes don’t even know who lives right next door anymore.
Fear has changed us and our neighbourhoods.
So what is Jesus asking us to do through the parable of the Good Samaritan?
He’s saying be a good neighbour. Show some compassion. Show some love. Share some hope.
So who’s my neighbour?
My neighbour is anyone I can help in their time of need. My neighbour is anyone who is alone, who is rejected, who is hurting, who is poor, who is hungry… and the list goes on.
My neighbour is far more than who I can see from my front doorstep. My neighbour is anyone I can see anywhere. Whether they live in Sydney Mines or they live in the United States or Syria or Iraq or Turkey.
That’s a wonderful thing about technology today. Our neighbourhood now includes the entire world, wherever people are hurting and in need.
Following Jesus is not taking the easy way. Following Jesus means you are working against what has become the natural order of the world. It means thinking of others before yourself when the world tells you the opposite.
Being a Christian is counter-cultural. There’s no other way to look at it. If we are going to effectively share the love of God to the world we live in, it means doing some drastic things like being a good neighbour, but not a neighbour like we see today. We need to be a neighbour like Jesus shows us, like he tells us in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
We need to love people, even people we don’t know.
It’s not easy. It’s not going to happen overnight either.
But it’s pretty clear as to what being a good neighbour will do for you, even if you may not see the results for some time.
What was the question the lawyer asked again?
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Love God with all we have, and be a good neighbour. You know the rest.
Go and make the world a better place. Or as Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”
Amen and amen.