“Neighbours and Neighbourhoods”
July 15, 2007 – Luke 10:25-37

There are many stories and sayings that we encounter on a regular basis which can be found in the Bible. “Give the clothes off one’s back”, “turn the other cheek”, “walk a mile in another’s shoes”, and many more. Often the term is often used quite differently today from its original intent!

Today we hear of Good Samaritan and how awards being given out to pillars of the community or to people who have done a heroic act. But I’m not sure that is what Jesus had in mind when he told the parable.

It all begins with a lawyer attempting to engage Jesus in a debate. A lawyer in those days was someone who had studied the Torah and was considered an expert on questions regarding the law. He may have been bored and decided to enter a debate with this new teacher in town trying to impress him and the crowd with his knowledge of the law.

He asks Jesus the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, as usual, turns the question back to the lawyer. “You’re the expert here, what does the law say?”

The lawyer of course correctly answers the question by quoting from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. “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 neighbour as yourself.” Jesus praises him for his knowledge and tells him if does this he will have eternal life.

The lawyer wishes to push the debate a little deeper. “Well then, who is my neighbour?” he asks.

Jesus then begins with the story of the good Samaritan. There are a number of characters in this parable, and this morning we’ll take a look at each of them.

First is the victim. We aren’t sure where he’s from, but it would probably be assumed he was Jewish. He was leaving Jerusalem and heading to Jericho. A journey which leads him down a steep winding path, as Jerusalem was a city atop a mountain. The road loses 3000 feet of elevation in just 17 miles. It provided plenty of cover and escape routes for bandits waiting for victims. People usually traveled in groups to protect themselves. It seems this fellow was making the trip alone, taking on quite a bit of risk in doing so.

The robbers stripped him and beat him. He is no longer identifiable, conscious, or recognizable to anyone passing by. Some may even assume him to be dead!

Next we hear of the priest and the Levite. We can lump the two together here as their reactions to the beaten man are the same. We aren’t sure why they crossed to the other side… if they thought the man was dead, then they were forbidden to touch him, as it would have made them unclean. They may have been afraid this man was a lure, bringing them into a trap set by robbers. They may have been intimidated by the complexities of transporting this man to the next town on a busy, steep, twisted road. They may have been busy or in a hurry! No time to stop. Whatever their reason, they choose to pass by.

The priest and the Levite were not bad people at all. They were well respected in society, leaders! There were many reasons as to why they may have passed by on the other side of the road. Just as we might. We’re busy people. We don’t want to get dirty. We feel like we don’t have the skills to help someone in trouble. Just as we might become overwhelmed in a situation, so then could they.

Next comes the Samaritan. Now the Samaritans were the “hated others” of the region. They were a group once part of Israel who broke off from the Jews. Jewish people would have viewed the Samaritans as half-breeds, married to pagans, and not fit for God’s service. They were seen as defiled, unpure, not living by the law. Yet, were once one nation with the Jews. They were the same nationality, had the same history, but were just a little different. Of all the nations in the region, the Samaritans were probably the ones most like the Jews. Yet were hated, considered worse than pagans.

But who is the one who stops to help the victim? The one least expected to do so. Not just least expected, but least desired to stop and help. Almost anyone else would have been preferred, even the robbers themselves might have been a better choice to those listening to Jesus.

As I reflected on this parable, I wondered who is our Samaritan today? Who is it they we really are opposed to? The common enemy. Who is it? The closest I can think of would be terrorists. We can’t really put a face on them, they are too diverse and come from all nations and races. So it’s not a perfect match. In World War II, I suppose it would have been Hitler and the Nazis. Twenty years ago, maybe communists?

People who look like us, think like us. In some cases worship the same God as we do! And what about in our own communities, families, churches? Who are the people we avoid? We shut out? Street people? Prostitutes? Alcoholics? How shocked might we be if they offered to help us in a time of need?

Jesus is turning the minds of his listeners inside out by having the Samaritan be the hero of the story. This man offers two days salary to the innkeeper to care for the wounded man. He is taking great care of the man, going above and beyond what one might expect.

So we ask… who are we in the story? Are we the victim? Looking for help in times of distress? Are we the priest and Levite? Keeping on our way, too busy to stop and help? Not wanting to be inconvenienced by someone else’s burden? Are we the Samaritan? Are we really the one who stops to help, giving unconditionally?

We need to remember what caused this whole story to be told. What triggered the conversation in the first place. A challenge by a lawyer, wanting a debate. Instead he gets a harsh lesson in obedience.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.”

Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. Every piece of us, every fibre of our being, every thought, every action, every deed should be a sign of our love of God. These signs will be witnessed by those around us. Everyone we talk to, every encounter, everyone we pass on the street is our neighbour. This makes our neighbourhood very large doesn’t it?

The parable of the good Samaritan is more than recognizing a hero. It is the example of living out a life devoted to God. Loving God with our entire being, and from that love we show mercy, compassion, love, patience, friendship, and care for our neighbours.

Living out our faith in Christ by showing our love of God in our actions. Sunday through Saturday, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Absolutely a difficult task, but one we can strive for, being ever aware of what we do and how we act.

It takes a lot of prayer to do this. It takes a lot of devotion to read about this and so much more in the Bible. It takes a lot of help by talking and sharing with those who also struggle in the same way.

We all fall short. It’s unavoidable. We are human after all. But we try. We learn from our mistakes and learn to forgive ourselves when we fall short. Just as God forgives us when we continually turn back to Him. It is our relationship with God that leads us into right relationship with others. And it begins with “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and all your mind.” From there we learn a lot about ourselves and how we live with our neighbours.