“Who is My Neighbor”

                       

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:36-37

We ask, “Just who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers, “Be a neighbor.”

Today’s Gospel lesson is a the very familiar story of the Good Samaritan. It takes place within the context of Jesus teaching the crowds that gathered to hear His words. At one of those teaching times, an expert in the law questions Jesus regarding a simple and plain teaching from Scripture. Our text records the event this way: 25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “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.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” However, the lesson is not quite over yet. The expert in the law seeks further explanation, to justify his own knowledge and maybe his own personal actions. Therefore, he asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus answers the man as only the master teacher can. He uses a parable, a story designed to help instruct. He tells this expert in the law about a man who has fallen victim to some bandits and robbers, and of the people who travel his way and their reactions when they see him. One is a priest – a recognized religious leader; the next a Levite – a sort of “lay associate” to the clergy; and the last a Samaritan – a hated foreigner of the Jews. The Jews viewed the Samaritan people as half-breeds at best. Half-breeds both physically, and spiritually. These were not the true chosen people, but rather people who wrongfully claimed to be descendants of Abraham. It is interesting to note then that Jesus makes a significant point by commending the actions of this Samaritan. This foreigner is the only one who shows compassion and mercy to the stranger in need of help. It seems that he is the only one in this story who truly understands who his neighbor is.

Often (even in recent news headlines) we forget that actions require re-actions. You will hear people raising their voices to claim their God-given rights. “This is my right as a mother, or as an elected official, or as a citizen, or as a student, or as a human being…!” Most of the time in these little speeches or cries for justice – one element is sorely lacking. You see, along with your rights, come duties. With the gift comes a responsibility. And this truth applies to the grace of God as well.

Let’s look at the scene in the Garden of Eden– the home of our first parents. Adam and Eve were given and shown God’s love from the start. They were given a perfect relationship with their Lord and Maker. With this blessing they were also expected to return this love. They were to love each other and love their Lord. The Fall into sin came because of them not loving their neighbor, nor loving their Lord above all else. Instead, they loved themselves first and foremost.

Because of this idolatry of putting themselves before God, sin entered the creation and destroyed the perfect harmony which God had created. Adam and Eve separated themselves from God because they had made themselves their god. We are as guilty as they were, we often put ourselves and our own selfish desires before the Will of God. Often, we put our own interests before that of our God and that of our fellow man.

But you see, with the gift of God’s Grace, there also comes a duty – a responsibility. With God’s gift of His mercy to us, comes a duty in the form of a divine command found in our text. “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.” With Christ’s love entering our hearts a number of things happen. a) Not only do we experience joy and peace in the recognition of our salvation, b) but our hearts are now made able to express this mercy and compassion to our fellow man. Our eyes are now open to a whole new perspective. We hear of other people suffering and our hearts are troubled. This is what happened to the Samaritan. Luke writes: 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. He saw the man lying there and he had compassion on him. Regardless of the cost to himself, he did what he could to help the man.

If you did not know Christ’s love for you, you would hear of suffering and pain and not recognize it as tragedy. Since it wasn’t happening to you, you might not care. Your heart would remain cold. But, with Christ in your heart, with Christ ruling your life, you experience compassion; you are made aware of mercy. You are told to do likewise to your neighbor. You are told that the greatest love, is that a man lay down His life for His friends.

Dear friends, Jesus Christ is the Good Samaritan in the flesh. While here on earth, Jesus recognized that every person was His friend, every person was His neighbor. And He loves them all with the same perfect love that His Father has for the world. He expressed that love in His obedience to His Father’s will, even unto death on a cross.

What does this mean for us? What are we to learn from His sacrifice? For us, a) it means that Christ died for us, and has won for us victory over death and damnation. b) It means we are again able to have intimate relationship with our Lord and Creator. We are not destined to die. That is not our fate. We have been given life, here and in eternity.

What we are to learn from this, a) is that Christ has reconciled us to our Father in heaven, b) and He has given us the perfect example of what real love and obedience is, as we live out our daily lives. We are to love and serve God by actively seeking His will. His will is a) that we praise and honor only Him b) and that we care for our fellow man and deal with him in kindness and in mercy. Our enemies have been destroyed – all who are left (everyone we meet), are to be our friends. We are to show them the same love that Christ does in that we are to lay down our lives for our friends. This means sacrificing our selfish nature. Putting our self-centered fleshliness to death and living according to fruits of our faith. We are to be kind, slow to anger, abounding in mercy, as our Father is to us.

It is an important lesson that Jesus taught to that lawyer when He told the parable of the Good Samaritan. And that lesson has been preserved for us in His word that we too learn who our neighbor is and how we should live according to him.        

To Christ, who is our Lord and Savior alone, be all glory and honor – forever and ever. AMEN.

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