Scripture Text: Luke 10:25-37
In 1968, the first national broadcast of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood appeared on television with a theme song called “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” It began like this:
It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
And it ended like this…
Won’t you be my neighbor?
Won’t you please, won’t you please,
Please won’t you be my neighbor?
I remember watching that show as a kid and enjoying the wholesome messages from Fred Rogers, who was an ordained Presbyterian minister. At the time I heard Mr. Rogers sing that song I probably thought to myself, “No, I do not think I can be your neighbor.” After all, Fred Rogers was some where else other than my neighborhood. I did not personally know Mr. Rogers. If I did meet him, I would have probably treated him like a celebrity, maybe get his autograph, but I still would not think of him as a neighbor. The parable today talks about being a neighbor. In fact, if we take Jesus’ words literally, anyone we meet should be our neighbor. The Parable of the Good Samaritan is perhaps the most well known of Jesus’ parables, maybe one of the easiest to understand, but probably one of the hardest to do. It does not so much reveal who our neighbor is as much as it describes how we should act neighborly towards one another.
A Good Question
The passage opens with a lawyer coming up to Jesus to ask him a question. We should know right then there will be trouble when it begins with a lawyer. Some lawyers are not so good but many are and we need them to be an advocate for us in court and to defend those who may not be able to defend themselves. But that is not the type of lawyer that approached Jesus. Lawyers in the New Testament were experts of the law, but not the civil law, such as our American legal system or the Roman legal system of Jesus’ time. They were experts in the Law of Moses. These lawyers would have been the biblical scholars of that time, like the theologians and bible professors of today.
The lawyer’s reason for coming to Jesus was not entirely pure for the passage tells us that he wanted to test Jesus. Elsewhere in scripture when one wanted to test Jesus, it was to arrest Him for something. The lawyer approached Jesus and asked Him, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Many times we ask questions that are not that good or do not really matter in the grand scheme of things, but this was a good question. It was an important question. Most people I suspect will ask a question similar to this one. You may have asked it yourself: What do I need to do to have eternal life? What do I need to do to go to heaven? What must I do to be saved? These are really important questions. A person may ask this question in order to know just how good to be to still go to heaven. They may want to know exactly what they need to do to be right with God.
Jesus responded to the lawyer, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” After all, this was an expert in the Law of Moses, so Jesus pointed him to God’s Word. In fact, that is where we should look for answers to important questions of life. God has already revealed to us what is required for eternal life and it is written in scripture. Knowing what God’s Word said, the lawyer replied with a familiar statement:
Luke 10:27 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 lawyer responded to Jesus that to have eternal life meant we ought to love God and to love our neighbor. This answer is actually a quote from two different portions of scripture in the Old Testament. The first (Love God) was a quote from Deuteronomy 6:5 and the second (Love your neighbor) was from Leviticus 19:18. Together, some have called this the whole duty of man. In fact, Jesus said these two commandments were the greatest of all commandments and in Matthew chapter twenty-two He said the following:
Matthew 22:40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
Therefore, the answer to the lawyer’s question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” was to fulfill the Law of God which really meant to love God and to love our neighbors. In fact, Jesus made it even more plain by telling him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28). Loving God and loving our neighbors results in life – eternal life. That’s seems pretty simple, right? Wrong!
A Not-So-Good Question (A Redirection)
The problem is there is no one, not one person, who has kept the great commandments perfectly. To say that you love God with all of your heart, and all of your soul, and all of your strength, and all of your mind, really is to say that you never sin, because it would be impossible to sin if you loved God in this way. To sin is to love something else more than you love God. But, if one were able to love God completely, that’s only part of the requirement. We are also to love our neighbor like we love ourselves. That can be more difficult than to love God, for God is altogether lovely. There are plenty of reasons why we might find it difficult to love all of our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. There is nothing wrong with the lawyer’s answer but knowledge of what God requires is insufficient to inherit eternal life. Jesus said that we must “do this and live.” It is not enough to hear God’s Word or to know God’s Word: We must do God’s Word.
The lawyer should have honestly said that he had not inherited eternal life. He should have said that he had failed to keep the Law. But remember, he was not really there to learn what was required but he was there to test Jesus. Maybe he thought he was OK. Instead of honestly responding to Jesus about his own failure to keep the greatest commandments in God’s Law, he tried to justify himself. He tried to make himself look good. This was like the woman Jesus met at the well. When Jesus pointed out her sin, she changed the subject. Here, the lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” This was in response to Jesus telling him to do the commandment that he already knew. The lawyer’s second question was an improper question, because the he was trying to exclude his responsibility to love others by making some people “non-neighbors.” This would be like us trying to determine who in our community should we love and share Jesus. That should be easy to answer! A more appropriate question for the lawyer to ask would have been, “How can I love my neighbor as I should?”
A Good Neighbor
Just as He did with the woman at the well, Jesus answered the lawyer’s second question. Although Jesus answered him, He did not tell the lawyer who his neighbor was as much as how he ought to be neighborly. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus told a story of a man who had a really bad day. While he was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, some robbers beat him and left him for dead. Afterwards, several people approached him, but two of them just passed by the unfortunate man, while a third man actually stopped and helped him. There are four types of people mentioned:
- The Victim
- The Abusers
- The Indifferent
- The Compassionate
The victim was traveling along the Jericho road which had long stretches of rocky terrain that made it a good place for robbers. The robbers beat up the man and left him for dead and we do not hear anymore about them. I would like to think that they were caught or punished, but that is not the point of the story. The point of the story is how to act neighborly to someone and obviously robbing someone and leaving them for dead is not a good way to do it. The next two individuals were a priest and a Levite. The priest would have been a descendant of Aaron, Moses’ brother, who was responsible for the priestly duties in the Temple. The Levite was a member of the tribe of Levi but was not a descendant of Aaron. They may have assisted the priests in their duties. These two men, the priest and the Levite, might have been considered the religious representatives of Judaism and would have been expected to be good examples of neighbors in the community. It is like what most people expect the pastor or deacons to be. They should be examples of good behavior that all are expected to follow.
The priest and the Levite did not do much better than the robbers, though. While they did not mistreat the unfortunate man who had been beaten, they did not help him either. We can call these two men “the Indifferent.” They did nothing to help the poor man but simply passed by on the other side of the road. Maybe they were afraid the same fate would happen to them. That is probably not too hard to understand. Would you stop to help someone while driving through a bad part of town? What do you do when you see a beggar or a homeless person while walking down the street or while going through a park? Do you stop to help them or do you walk around them? Maybe the priest and the Levite were too busy to help the man who had been robbed. Maybe they did not have time to deal with this problem. They may have thought someone else would take care of this poor unfortunate soul, but it was not their problem. Does any of this sound familiar? Maybe you have said or thought those things, too.
The last person in the story was the Samaritan. We can call him “the Compassionate.” What is interesting about this is that the Samaritans were not friends of the Jews. It would have been unthinkable for a Samaritan to help a Jew. The reason for this is about seven hundred and fifty years before Christ, when the people of God were divided into the nation of Israel and the nation of Judah, the Assyrians defeated the Northern Kingdom of Israel. They then intermingled with the people of Israel producing half-Jew and half-Assyrian descendants. The Jews later despised these mixed people, the Samaritans, and would not allow them to help rebuild the Temple after the Jews returned from their Babylonian Exile. Therefore, the Samaritans built their own temple in the north and created a rival religion. For these reasons, the Samaritan would have had reason to pass by as the priest and the Levite had already done since the Jews hated the Samaritans for being racially impure and a part of a false religion.
However, the Samaritan cared for the man who had been robbed. He tended to his wounds and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. He also gave the innkeeper two denarii, which was worth two days’ salary, in order to continue caring for him. This unlikely man, a Samaritan, showed more care and mercy for the poor, unfortunate victim than did the ones who should have been examples of mercy. Which of the people in this parable were neighbors to the first man? The lawyer again answered correctly. He said it was the one who showed mercy. Jesus made the point that to love one’s neighbor means caring for those with whom we would not normally have a relationship. Even those we consider to be our enemies, Jesus told us to love (Luke 6:27, 35). Therefore, our neighbor is anyone we can help, not just those we want to help.
Following Jesus Christ Means Being Neighborly
What if the Bible had said, “Help the one who you find on the side of the road half-dead?” Would the priest and Levite have helped the victim in this parable? Maybe! They prided themselves on keeping the Law. But the lawyer in this passage was not looking for an answer to how he should love his neighbor but to find a way to exclude those he should be loving. Do we do that? Do we try to justify our inaction of helping others? Do we tell ourselves things to make it seem OK to not help another person or to avoid doing what we know we ought to do? To follow Christ means we must be ready to help whomever God brings into our lives. In describing the final judgement Jesus said this:
Matthew 25:34–36 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”
To be a follower of Jesus Christ is to love like Jesus did. It means to have mercy on others and to be neighborly to everyone. If we are followers of Jesus Christ, if we have received God’s grace and have trusted in Jesus for salvation, we will live like the Good Samaritan. These acts of compassion are not just church events that are scheduled throughout the year, but are things we do everyday outside of the church during the normal course of our lives. We do not need to wait for a scheduled outreach event to be a neighbor to the community. We should be Good Samaritans each and every day responding to the needs of those around us. If you see a person in need, then go help that person. If you know of someone who is suffering, then go help that person. You are the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “Go and do likewise!”
In this passage, Jesus did not really answer the question “Who is my neighbor?” but rather, “Who acts neighborly?” The lawyer answered Jesus correctly, but apparently did not practice what he preached. It is one thing to say the right thing. It is quiet another thing to actually do it. Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.” Maybe you realize that you have not acted neighborly to others. Maybe you have not been a Good Samaritan. Maybe you have not acted as a follower of Jesus by loving one another as you should. Perhaps you are not following Jesus Christ because you have never trusted in Him. John Stott, a leader within the Church of England, once wrote:
“It is no use to tell me to write a play like Shakespeare; Shakespeare could do it but I can’t. It is no use to tell me to live a life like Jesus; Jesus could do it but I can’t. If the genius of Shakespeare were to live within me, then I could write a play like Shakespeare. If the spirit of Jesus were to live within me then I could live like Jesus.”
That is the power available to anyone who believes Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior and trusts in His death and resurrection for salvation. When a person turns from sin and turns to Christ and says to Him, “I cannot love God and love my neighbor as I should, but Jesus Christ can,” then that person acknowledges his or her inability to be a good neighbor. That person trusts Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit to empower him or her to do it. If you have not trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, you can today. For those who have accepted Christ, may our prayer be like this:
“Lord, open my eyes to see the needs of those around me. Give me a willing spirit to help those in need. Help me to love others as you have loved me, with mercy and compassion. Help me to be your hands and feet to a lost and hurting world. Amen!”
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.