Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
Subject: What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself in a way that complements loving God as his child?
Complement: We show love through compassionate action to all those on our journey who need our help.
Introduction: In another conversation about eternal life and the greatest commandment Jesus tells us what it means to love your neighbor.
Before there was Frozen there was Little Mermaid. I remember when my kids were obsessed with Disney’s Little Mermaid. I distinctly remember waking up in the middle of the night to get someone water. I was half asleep and found myself asking “why didn’t he just kiss her in the lagoon? Everything was perfect. Well there wouldn’t be much of a story now would there?” Then I came to my senses and asked “what is wrong with me?” Well, if nothing else this proves that you can hear a story over and over again and still have questions about it.
Transition: Today we study a story we have probably heard before. We are looking at one of Jesus most famous parables, the Good Samaritan. But today we look at it because Jesus tells this story in response to answering a question about the commandment we have been looking at: “Love God…Love your neighbor.”
Jesus told a parable to clarify the question of who is my neighbor.
In this instance (which I think is different from the one Mark records and not just the same story placed in a different location) a man comes to Jesus to asks how he might be sure to inherit eternal life. His exact words are about doing. What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus asks him a question in response: what does the law say and how do you read it? The man responds with exactly what Jesus would say when asked about the greatest commandment, which probably means Jesus had just been talking about that topic. Love God and love your neighbor as your self, quoting from Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19. In essence what he is asking is “What is the “doing” that shows I am one of those who will inherit eternal life.”
Jesus responds that this man has answered correctly. If his life is characterized by loving God completely and loving his neighbor whole-heartedly, then he will have no worried at the judgment. He will have shown himself to be one of those who has faith in God.
But the man wants to justify himself. He wants to narrow the field of those he is required to love. So he asks Jesus, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers this question with the famous parable.
On a lonely road from Jerusalem to Jericho a man is attacked, beaten and left naked and unconscious. Two people walk past and do not help; one person stops and does everything necessary to restore the man to health including taking him to an inn and paying for any expenses.
Now before we draw our applications, we need to look at each of the main characters and fill in any background information that might help understand the parable.
The man: suffice it to say that this could happen. It was a dangerous road and those who traveled alone were vulnerable. Notice how this man is beaten unconscious and stripped. At that time the main indicators of where you were from were speech and clothing. With those gone there was no way to know anything about this man. He is, quite literally, just someone in need.
The Priest and Levite were religious people and pillars of society. They were known to work in the temple and be close to God. The priest was responsible to make the sacrifices at the temple and the Levite helped in the ceremonies but did not make sacrifices. Jesus obviously chose these two people because they would be expected to do the right thing. But they did not stop.The parable does not say more. We don’t know why they didn’t stop, but they didn’t and that’s all. Over the years many of wondered why they didn’t stop. Were they afraid of being made ceremonially unclean? Were they afraid for their own safety if they stopped? We don’t know because Jesus does not tell us. This is a parable not a narrative of actual events. We cannot surmise if the author doesn’t tell us more.
That is one of the points.
We are not so much to ask why they didn’t stop as we are to ask why we don’t stop. What are the reasons and rationalizations we make that keep us from helping someone?
The Samaritan: It is hard to remember that the Samaritan was a surprise in the original setting. The Samaritan was generally hated because there was great animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans that went back hundreds of years to the time when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians. How much did they hate each other? Well, once, in about AD 6 Samaritans snuck into the Temple at Jerusalem during the Passover and sprinkled the bones of dead animals in the temple, just to make it unclean. It was that kind of hatred.
Yet he is the one who acted as a neighbor. Jesus is making the point that to really love your neighbor you have to see beyond race, or economics or any of the other boundaries that we set as a society. Most of the conflict that we see in our culture comes from people refusing to listen to those in another “camp,” whether political, social or ethnic. But Jesus shows that love must transcend these boundaries. And we don’t always do that. Have you ever thought that showing love to someone unlike you – maybe a person with a lifestyle that you disagree with –would encourage them, make them think they are okay? Have you ever thought that you need to show your displeasure to someone so they know you don’t accept their lifestyle?
In the same way, have you ever thought that if you do something loving, you must force the person to listen to you talk about our faith. Of course it is great t talk about Jesus, but we can’t make listening to us the price for loving people. There does not seem to be any of that here.
Jesus changed the question from “who is my neighbor?” to “how do I love my neighbor?”
The expert in the law had asked “who is my neighbor?” But Jesus ended up answering, how do I love my neighbor? And the answer was pretty straightforward. You love your neighbor by treating that person, regardless of who they are, the way you would want to be treated. This applies to anyone: the people at your lunch table at school, those you interact with on the internet or those at work.
But how are we supposed to do this? When is it enough? We live in a world of need. It is everywhere. What can I do? How many people at work or in my school do I have to help for it to be okay?
This call to love reflects the faith that leads to eternal life because the Samaritan did for the man what Jesus has done for us.
Imagine how much more motivated you would be if you had been the one that was picked up. You would never forget that kindness. You would always stop to help another person because you had been the recipient of great grace. Maybe that is why this is the example of God-loving, soul-saving faith. As Christians we are all the man beside the road. We were all unable to save ourselves and Jesus stopped to save us.
You see the expert in the law said “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Well you can’t do anything to inherit something. You inherit something when the person who owns it gives it to you. We were lost, cast down by the stuff of life, unable to save ourselves and Jesus did not pass us by. He stopped and he healed us. He paid the price for our forgiveness and healing.
Now he says, love as I love. Not as a program or as an obligation, but as a normal part of life. Just look to show love to the people in your path through life.
Look at your life. Do you see the people around you? Do you see the people who might need your help?
Look at your spiritual life – are you asking what the minimum is for your spiritual life or are you responding to extravagant grace with love for others?