Luke 10:25-37 (CEB) | Rev. Will Conner
25 A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?”
26 Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?”
27 He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
28 Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
29 But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. 31 Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 32 Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 33 A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. 34 The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ 36 What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”
37 Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
“I hate him.” “I hate you.” These are the words that every young child has uttered at some point. Perhaps it’s the school yard bully, perhaps to his mom after she said that her son couldn’t have another piece of candy. I know that as a child I must have said this on occasion, because I remember what my mom’s response was. “You don’t hate anybody. Jesus says that you have to love everyone, but you don’t have to like them.” Who here has heard this before? Better yet, who here has used this line before?
I’m not sure about biblical accuracy of my mom telling me that I don’t have to like everyone. After all, how are you supposed to love someone if you really don’t like them?
As humans we like to define who we have to love; who we have to include. Look at any playground across Tennessee. You will see those kids that get picked first, and you will see the kids that are always on the sideline – rejected again. Not picked for kickball, left out of four square, eventually they figure it out, “I’m no good—I’m worthless.”
If you look at our national history, we do this same thing. We like to talk about being a nation of immigrants, but then in the founding of our nation, we define citizenship by the color of one’s skin. We defined voting rights by a person’s gender. We removed Native Americans from their homes to make more room for white settlers. In a different time, we created separate places for white children and black children to go to school. During WWII we were so scared of a certain type of American that we created concentration camps to keep Americans of Japanese descent out of communities. We’ve always been wrestling as a nation and as people with the question, “Who is my neighbor?”
Then if you fast forward to today, the American political debates seem to center heavily on, “Who is my neighbor?” We have people campaigning and advocating to include more people as Americans, recognizing recent undocumented immigrants as our neighbors. We have others, who reject the idea of expanding the definition of neighbor in the American political context. Instead of recognizing people as neighbors, the rhetoric focuses on creating additional barriers between us and them.
Thinking about this week with the shootings of two black men that reached national attention and the slaughter of 5 police officers in Dallas. I don’t know what it is like to put my life on the line for the safety others, and as I white man, I also don’t know what it’s like to be a black man in America. This week we have seen that I can say black lives matter and also deeply believe that police lives matter. But we continue to ask the question, “Who is my neighbor?”; “Whose lives matter?”
This question that young kids ask, “Who do I have to like?” This question that our nation is asking, “Who do we have to include?” This is the same question that a lawyer asked Jesus in our scripture reading just a few moments ago; he asked, “Who is my neighbor?”
To this question, what does Jesus say? Does he say, those that live next door? Does he say, those that look like you? Does he say, “You must love everyone but you don’t have to like them.”
No. Jesus says, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.” Wait, wait, wait—Jesus is asked a direct question, surely that demands a direct response. Nope; Jesus says, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.”
The road from Jerusalem to Jericho is a dangerous road. In your bulletin is a picture of this road that I took when I was traveling in Palestine in 2012. It was 17 miles from Jerusalem to Jericho on a road that descended 3300. Jerusalem sits in a hilly region, then Jericho is down near the dead sea. Jericho is 846 ft below sea level.
As you can kind of see in the picture, the terrain causes the road to run through narrow passes that provide easy places for bandits to hide. Those that heard this story from Jesus would not be surprised to hear about a man being mugged walking this route. Everyone knew that if you walked this road, you risked being assaulted by those that terrorized the narrow passes.
So this man is left for dead in a ditch. Jesus tells of two religious leaders that walked by this man on the other side of the road. We aren’t told why, but they want nothing to do with him. Perhaps they are late for an appointment, perhaps they don’t want to get their hands dirty, perhaps they were tired. Whatever the case, they walked to the complete other side of the road not to have any contact with the hurting and dying man.
Then a Samaritan was walking on the road, approached the man, embraced the man, cared for him, and made sure he received proper medical attention.
If you’ve grown up in church, you have head this story time and time again. The story of the Good Samaritan. But this story was a shocking story. Jesus was talking with a Jewish audience and the Jews hated the Samaritans and the Samaritans hated the Jews.
To really appreciate how deep the divide was between the Jews and Samaritans, I want to tell you about a lady named Amy-Jill Levine. Levine is a biblical scholar and she is Jewish. Shortly after the attacks on American on September 11, 2001 she was teaching this parable to a group that experienced the horrors of that day firsthand. Instead of saying that the neighbor was the Samaritan, she suggested that the one who was the neighbor was a member of Al-Qaeda. Wow – talk about startling. Talk about making your point. But that really hints at how deep the divide was between these two people groups, the Jews and Samaritans. Suggesting that a member of Al-Qaeda or a member of Daesh or ISIS is actually the neighbor—gives us a hint about how hard and dramatic this story of Jesus actually is.
When the lawyer asked “who is my neighbor;” when we ask “who is included.” We are asking questions about boundaries and people groups. By telling this story, Jesus is telling the lawyer and us that we are asking the wrong question. As a pastor friend of mine in Virginia, named Tim, says “We ask: ‘Who is my neighbor?’ Jesus asks, ‘Whose neighbor are YOU.’”
We think about a neighbor as an identity, but Jesus says, neighbor is a verb. Neighbor is not a passive thing, instead neighbor is about love in action. Neighbor is about living out love in our lives. We ask, “Who is my neighbor?” but Jesus says, go and neighbor.
When I think about this command of Jesus that neighbor is a verb, I think about my dad. You see we have a family retreat up in the mountains between Tellico Plains and Murphy, NC. If you are familiar with the area, it’s up about 8 miles past Green Cove. My whole life I have grown up going there, and now I get to share this little piece of heaven with my own kids.
This mountain house is in a community with several other houses. There are a couple of people that live their full time, but most folks are there on the weekends or holidays. When we are up there playing in the creek, building fires, having fun, my dad will make a statement that he’s going neighboring. Neighboring means that he pours himself a drink gets on his Polaris Ranger and drives around the neighborhood to talk with whoever is out. Someone will ask where he is, and we reply, Dad’s gone neighboring. For my dad, this idea of neighbor as verb is very natural.
The thing about neighboring or seeing neighbor as a verb, means that you don’t get to pick who your neighbor is. When we or the lawyer ask Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” We are wanting to figure out which people to be kind to, which people to include in society, which people to loan our yard equipment to, and which people we can avoid. But Jesus’ response to us means that we don’t get to define who is our neighbor, we just have to love people.
Seeing neighbor as a verb means loving people. Seeing neighbor as a verb means caring for people whether we know them or not. Seeing neighbor as a verb means taking care of a stranger and an enemy who was beaten and left for dead on the side of the road.
The words of one biblical scholar about this really hit home for me. He wrote, “authentic love does not discriminate; it creates neighborly relationships, because [love] by its nature meets the needs of others.” (Matthew Skinner, Feasting on the Word, C.3.prop10, p243)
Love, neighboring meets the needs and cares for others.
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is a pastor in North Carolina and is a little bit of a radical guy. But he tells a story that—well, instead of explaining it, let me just read you his words. He was in Iraq at the start of the most recent war with Iraq. As the United States launched “Shock and Awe,” his group was forced to move out of the country. About this time he tells this story:
We were in Iraq at the beginning of the war, and when we were driving out of the country we had a car accident where the car landed in a side ditch. Three of our friends stumbled out on the side road. Their heads were bleeding, wondering what was going to happen next. They were picked up by a car of Iraqis and taken into a town called Rutba. In Rutba a doctor said, three days ago your country bombed our hospital, but we will take care of you. And he saved their lives. – In People who were supposed to be our enemies we see what God’s love looks like in the 21st century. (Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, www.theworkofthepeople.com/strangers-at-my-door)
The supposed enemy; a Muslim, an Iraqi, a victim of bombing by the US, gave no regard to boundaries or definitions or race or religion or visa status or political party or wealth or ability to pay. They offered care; they were neighboring; they lived the love that Jesus spoke about.
Just last week I experienced some of this love. Just last week I experienced what it means to be see neighbor as a verb.
St. Mary’s mobile health clinic was here. People from Decatur and other area churches were here to serve those who are in need of medical care and don’t have health insurance. Each month the clinic is here, and each month people with limited access to health care receive the care that they so desperately need.
All are treated with dignity. All are treated with love. All are treated as neighbors.
Especially this week, in the midst of horrific shootings and unrest, it seems that all around us, kindness and love are absent. But kindness and love is what we see in the stories of Jesus and in the stories we have shared this morning. It’s about neighboring. It’s about loving and acting on that love toward others.
So this morning let us end with the words of Jesus: “Go and do likewise.”
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.