When a new parent was asked by a friend what it was like having their first baby living in the house now, he replied, “Well, there’s never a dull moment.” How true that is! If you were to ask one of the disciples what life with Jesus was like, they probably would’ve said something like that. There’s never a dull moment. Just think of all they regularly experienced after they began to follow Him: amazing miracles; battles with demons; Jesus’ confrontations with the opposition; dinner parties with shady people; challenging assignments in some foreign, unfriendly territories; and fascinating conversations with all kinds of interesting people along the way. Such was the case as we read of Christ’s final expedition to Jerusalem in Luke’s Gospel.
Jesus had many memorable encounters in conversations with various kinds of people who came to Him. His disciples had the privilege of listening and observing them. Obviously, they were impacted by these encounters because they later remembered them and shared them with other people. Eventually, Luke wrote them down for our benefit.
These encounters served them well as part of their training to be Christ’s disciples. Jesus had called them with the promise of making them fishers of people, and they had a lot to learn. They needed to learn about the ways of the kingdom of God and how to attract people to repent and receive the kingdom so they might experience the new, abundant life Jesus came to give them.
Last week we observed Jesus’ encounter with three admirers who said they wanted to follow Him. From that encounter, the disciples learned about the high commitment involved with following Jesus. Today we see Him having an encounter with a lawyer. This is not an attorney as we know them today. He was more of a biblical scholar, an expert on the Torah, the Law of Moses. This man came to Jesus with a question: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Now we might wonder if he is sincere in asking that question. Does he really want to know? Luke would say, Not really. He was simply putting Jesus to the test. He’s thinking to himself, ‘Let’s see how bright this Galilean rabbi really is!’ I bet I could teach him a thing or two. Let the games begin!’
In all likelihood, this lawyer was affiliated with the Pharisees, who were working to discredit Jesus with whom they had some run-ins already. Maybe the man’s intentions were to make a public spectacle of Jesus by getting Him to say something heretical that would hurt His reputation.
Besides, it is a bit of a stupid question when you think about it. The nature of an inheritance is that you do nothing for it. You don’t earn an inheritance; someone gives it to you. Jesus patiently and kindly responds to this individual with His own question. “What’s written in the law? What do you read there?” (Notice, Jesus says He didn’t come to abolish the laws of God, but to actually fulfill them.)
The expert responds with the statement that every pious Jew recited daily. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind.” Then he added a statement from the Old Testament: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). The man’s response is sometimes referred to in Christian circles as the Great Commandment, and Jesus affirms him for it. “Good answer! Do this and you will live.” End of debate, now. Right? Nope. Not at all.
The law expert doesn’t want to end this debate, because he is kind of losing. He wants to justify himself, look good in front of the crowd. So he asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” And Jesus tells a story – a story, which has become very familiar over time, even to those who profess not to believe in Jesus. It has been entitled, The Good Samaritan story.
A traveler going down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was robbed and beaten and stripped of his clothes. The robbers left him half dead by the side of the road. Now by chance, a priest, and then a little later on, a Levite (an assistant priest) came walking down the road, saw the beaten man lying there half dead, but each of them crossed over to the other side of the road and passed him by.
These were very religious people of God. They knew the same answers that the expert quoted, but they did nothing. Quite disappointing. Jesus doesn’t tell us why they did nothing. Perhaps it was fear of being mugged themselves or a lack of time in their tight schedules. Maybe they were concerned about remaining ceremonially clean, not taking the chance of touching a dead man, which would make them unclean.
Jesus continued . . .
But, a Samaritan came near and saw him . . .
The listeners were at the edge of their seats. Augh! One of those half-breed, lowlife Samaritans. I bet he’ll crush in his skull. Finish him off. This isn’t good! Jews and Samaritans had a long history of hatred toward each other. No time for one another.
Jesus went on with the story.
. . . and when he saw the man, he was moved with pity. He went to the beaten man, did everything he could to help him. He bandaged his wounds after applying oil and wine on them for healing. He put the man on his donkey and walked into an inn. He took care of him there. He paid for the man’s stay from his own pocket, covering two months of lodging for him, and told the innkeeper to put any overrun costs on his tab.
Such extravagant love on a part of that Samaritan – over-the-top mercy and compassion.
Then Jesus turned to the law expert and asked him, “Which of these three was the neighbor to the beaten-up man?”
Biblical scholars, by the way, point out that there’s a bit of a surprise stinger in this parable. Jesus portrayed the hated Samaritan as the hero of the story. He carried out God’s great commandment better than the other two Jewish religious professionals. The thought was so horrifying, distasteful to the law expert that he couldn’t even bring himself to say the word Samaritan. Instead, with a scowl on his face, he spit out the words, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus gets in the last word: “Go and do likewise.” Instead of asking, Who is my neighbor? – Go and Be a neighbor. The right question is not, Who is my neighbor? but, How can I be a neighbor? Be a neighbor even to people like Samaritans, for they are your neighbors, too.
An important truth is being taught here. A neighbor is someone whose need you see and God has put you in a position to meet, no matter who they are. Jesus takes away the boundaries, the limits that the expert of the law (one of God’s own people) and people like us tend to put up for ourselves. We love people who like us and are like us. Jesus tells us to be a neighbor to those who are not like you and those who do not like you as well. According to this parable, your neighbor could be
• Someone who you don’t know, an absolute stranger. The Samaritan did not know the guy in the ditch. He only saw the need and responded with help.
• Someone who is unfriendly toward you – even an enemy. Like the relationship between Jews and Samaritans.
• Someone who rubs you the wrong way, who has done you wrong in the past.
• An unlovely person. The half-dead man lying in a pool of blood by the side of the road was very unattractive to look at.
Someone whose lifestyle you find unlovely, whose life situation makes you sick and uncomfortable.
• Someone who even worships another god than you do. You see them as unlovely.
• Someone who can’t reciprocate your love. Did you notice that there’s no paying back in this parable? No IOU being written out. In fact, not even a thank-you is found in the story. Just unconditional love and mercy on the part of Samaritan. Likewise, the person you help may not say thanks or make you feel good about your kindnesses. Jesus is saying, So what? Be a neighbor.
This is a difficult teaching, if you ask me. But Jesus is very clear. As God’s own people who have received His mercy and love through Christ, we are to love God and go out of our way to be a loving neighbor to others. We are to love them extravagantly and unconditionally.
Perhaps you’re wondering what this kind of love look like, and where a person gets started? First, you make yourself available. This is how you get started.
Bob Gough, a Christian author of the popular book, Love Does, tells of the importance of being available. He said, “We answer people’s questions about love every time we make ourselves more available. I’m trying to learn to be radically available. Every time my phone rings, it’s a reminder to me: Be like Jesus. Be available. There is something beautiful about stopping and really seeing people. Seeing their hurt, seeing their joy, seeing the whatever.”
After you make yourself available, be an intentional observer of people. Look at people around you, notice them, pay attention to them. Be interested. Be a student of them. Observe and listen. Ask questions and work at remembering what they say to you. Come to understand them so you can help.
Finally, get involved and lend a hand to those stuck in the ditch of life, like in the parable. Use the resources God has given you to help the hurting neighbor – resources like your time, your possessions, your skills, and your connections to help. Whether it’s a societal hurt or an injustice that needs healing. It has caught your attention on the news and is breaking your heart. You become passionate about it. Or perhaps it is an individual’s need in your sphere of influence, at a retirement home, in your neighborhood, at work, on the pickle ball course, or on the golf course. In the name of Jesus, do something. This is what He is telling us. Get involved. Love your neighbor.
Let me share a story I read recently that inspires me.
A man who had no interest in spiritual matters related casually to the Christian who lived next door to him. They talked over the back fence about power lawnmowers and stuff like that.
Then the non-Christian’s wife was stricken with cancer and died three months later. Afterward he wrote in a letter, “I was in total despair. I went through the funeral preparations and the service like I was in a trance. After the service, I went to the path along the river and walked all night, but I didn’t walk alone. My neighbor, afraid for me I guess, stayed with me all night. He didn’t speak. He didn’t even walk beside me. He just followed me. When the sun finally came up over the river, he came over and said to me, ‘Let’s go get some breakfast.’
“I go to church now – my neighbor’s church. A religion that can produce the kind of caring and love my neighbor showed me is something I want to learn more about. I want to love and be loved like that for the rest of my life.”
Jesus’ words to love our enemies sound like a tall order. We know ourselves pretty well – our built-in prejudices, our selfishness, our inattentiveness. So we naturally say it is impossible. How can I possibly do this?
The answer is, you can’t. Not on your own. However, I have an encouraging word for you today: With Jesus Christ in your life, you can grow in loving your neighbor. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are filled supernaturally. You are powered by the Holy Spirit. God is at work in you, developing what the apostle Paul refers to in the book of Galatians as the fruit of the Spirit, which basically is the ability to love people like Jesus. It means to have a heart of kindness that breaks for others in their brokenness and moves toward them to help. You are not on your own.
One final thought for today. Disciples of Jesus never walk in the footsteps of Jesus as much as when they operate like the Samaritan in this parable – being a loving neighbor. Remember, we were in the ditch, helplessly dying in our sinfulness, in need of rescue. We needed someone to bring us home to our heavenly Father. Jesus saw us in our need. He rescued us and healed our wounds with His own wounds at the cross as He suffered and died for sinners like you and me. He loves us extravagantly, without limits. Scriptures say while we were still His enemies, Jesus died for our salvation. When I trust Jesus as my Savior and Lord and enter into His kingdom, I am showered with His mercy, grace, and forgiveness. His agenda then becomes my agenda – to extravagantly love the wounded and needy of this world whom He daily brings to my attention. I do this out of love for Him who gave His all for me.
Go, be a neighbor. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer