Love Your Neighbour?
Scripture: Luke 10: 25-37
Sermon: “Sustained by Love”
Have you ever known the answer to a question, but you ask it anyway? Maybe you don’t like the answer, so you hope if you ask it again, you’ll get the answer in a different way. Or, maybe you’ve heard the answer, but you wonder then if you actually heard the question correctly! Jason and I realized one time that we were simply having trouble hearing one another. He’d ask a question across the house, and I’d keep on doing whatever I was doing. I’d ask a question, and would hear nothing. So much so that we went to a hearing specialist early in our marriage. The doctor finally laughed and said, you both hear fine…you may be ‘selectively’ hearing the what the other is saying. If you like the answer, you seem to hear just fine.
Well, the lawyer in Luke reminds me of myself and perhaps others of us see a resemblance of ourselves when we read this Scripture. Do we know the answer to the question? Or, are we selectively choosing not to hear it. The lawyer wanted to test Jesus. He asked a question that he already knew the answer to. He asks the question “What is written in the law? Jesus confirms the lawyer’s answer with the words: ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, your mind,; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And then, knowing the answer and hearing it, he asked again for clarification.
The lawyer says, okay, well…who is my neighbour?
Interesting question. Why does he ask it? Is he hoping that selectively he won’t have to consider certain ones his neighbour? Jesus just said it’s how we also love the Lord.
Maybe we’ve asked this question before. I know when often in our church we talk about reaching out to our neighbours. When we speak of neighbour…do we speak just of the one next door to our own house? Or are we talking about the neighbours of this church building? Do we mean our neighbours south of the border…or our neighbours in the next Province? Who is our neighbour? Especially if we’re supposed to love them as much as we love ourselves. Especially if by loving them, this is how we also love God. One scholar writes, “Authentic love does not discrimate; it creates neighbourly relationships, because by its nature it meets the needs of others.”
The lawyer asks: Who is my neighbour? And Jesus responds with a parable. A parable that many of us have heard all of our lives. The parable of the Good Samaritan.
First, we need to be clear with what a Samaritan is. Originally, the Samaritans were in the northern part of Israel and inter-married outside of Israel. This is what the Jews despised. The Jews considered them outsiders, but the Samaritans felt that they were still in. This ‘Good Samaritan’ story is not just about doing good, but about doing good even to those you’ve been taught to hate.
When we hear the Samaritan story we immediately think, why didn’t the priest or Levite stop to help? It doesn’t make sense to just walk on by. They should have been the ones to stop and do the right thing.
When the lawyer asked the question, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus turns the question around by asking whose neighbour are you? The question is not whether others are your neighbour, but whether you are theirs. Jesus, then, responds by telling the Samaritan story.
The Samaritan by all standards was a complete opposite and enemy of the Jews. They were outsiders to the area. The Samaritan, as well, was the very opposite of the lawyer who pressed for the parable to be told. Why? Because the story shatters any configurations of who are and who are not the people of God. The Samaritan was the last one whom would be suspected for showing mercy and compassion, especially if it was the enemy on the side of the road. Yet, the least likely helper turned out to be the most merciful one. Verse 33 says that the Samaritan was ‘moved with pity.’ He wasn’t overly concerned with his own safety, rather, he was focused on the immense need before him.
Earlier in Luke, Jesus shows us this same example in his own actions. Jesus had approached a woman whose only son had died and she was a widow. The Scriptures say that Jesus ‘saw her and had compassion for her.’ But then, what did he do? He came forward and touched the coffin where the man lay. This, of course, was risky again. For any contact with the dead would leave one unclean by Jewish standards. Jesus, though, did not pass by. In the same way, the Samaritan was moved with compassion and went to him. His involvement was one of “approach” and not one of passing on by. When compassion came upon him he moved closer to him, not farther away from him. In the same way, God does not move away from us. God moves toward us through the incarnation of his son in the flesh. God shows us by example that in loving those who may reject us, we are still called to approach and not pass by.
Do you find yourself more like those who pass by, or the one who comes near? Jesus clarifies by simply saying…you know the answer, now go and do the same.
Maybe our issues are not so much with hearing the answers from Jesus, but in unhearing the answers we’ve been inclined to follow. When we speak of neighbour…do we speak just of the one next door to our own house? Or are we talking about the neighbours of this church building? Do we mean our neighbours south of the border…or our neighbours in the next Province? Who is my neighbour? But did I say, who is my neighbour….and the wonder if it was the person in the ditch, the homeless man on the corner, the enemy I despise. The outsider…the one I didn’t even think about or notice. Who is my neighbour? Jesus opens our ears to really hear. Scholar Matthew Skinner writes that the lawyer seems to want to define who deserves his love, “but Jesus’ parable suggests that love seeks out neighbours to receive compassion and care, even when established boundaries or prejudices conspire against it.”
There was a professor from my divinity school who was originally from England. During World War II some of the English voluntarily took in German POW’s imprisoned in their towns and fed them a good home-cooked meal. The same Germans who’d recently been bombing England to rubble and trying to take over the world. However, every Sunday after church, Frank Baker and his wife invited them into their home. Because Frank spoke German, he was able to carry on full conversations with these men. One such man, named Jurgen Moltmann is today one of the greatest theologians living at age 95. Moltmann wrote “The seed of my hope was planted in my heart, in the home of Frank Baker.”
As Dr. Baker aged he was stricken with alzheimers, and the Dean of the divinity school visited him. Of course, Dr. Baker had no idea who he was. But his parting words were “you are welcome in my home anytime.” He didn’t even recognize who the Dean was, he just knew that, like all people, he needed to eat and sleep and Frank knew he could help with that. Now, I would also have the Dean into my home and invite him in very willingly. But Frank Baker would extend an invitation to anybody—even an enemy.
James Wallace reminds us in this Scripture that it is more than just a journey from “womb to tomb, but from birth to rebirth, from partial life to abundant life.” The gospel of Christ pours out love on all those who journey in a dangerous world.
The Samaritan was nowhere near his home while he was walking down the road. But he was graciously hospitable as he took the man to the Inn and paid the Innkeeper to care for him. The Good Samaritan story is not only about the Good Samaritan, but it is about the neighbour in need. The man on the side of the road. This man was beaten so that one could not even tell whether he was a Jew or Gentile, alive or dead. At first glance, to determine whether he was a friend or foe was not easily recognizable. We’re not sure. But we know this, he is a human being in need. A friend of mine this week noticed that in the ancient church, the Samaritan is Jesus and we’re the ones in the ditch! In the modern church, we tend to view this as us being theSamaritan and someone else is in the ditch in need. The story is all about us and what we should do. The story is first about God and what he has done for us.
The story that we need to tell is “the story that casts us and those we serve not as actors but as those acted upon by a love whose limitless goodness we cannot fathom.” Wallace writes “To love God is to love neighbour is to love God.” (James A. Wallace) The ongoing flow of love occurs…representing the ongoing love of eternity. God only requires of us one direction on our journeys—and that is the way of love and compassion for others.
In the end, the lawyer realizes that he is the one being put to the test, and not Jesus. When Jesus asks who was the neighbour to the man in need, the lawyer manages to say ‘the one who showed mercy.’ He cannot even bring himself to say the word “Samaritan.” But he knows. He knows.
Practice love for others in powerful ways, and in doing so, we ourselves will be sustained by love. A love that continues to surprise us.
 Skinner, Matthew. FOW Commentary.
 Ibid, p. 243.
 FOW, p. 239.
 Jarvis, Cynthia. FOW Commentary.