Date: March 10, 2019 Transcript:
A number of years ago, I was driving to a Bible Study I was leading. It was a spring evening, I was out in the country, and as I went around a curve there was a car parked on the edge of the road. A man and two teenage girls were standing alongside it. Being the nice person I am, or at least was, I stopped to see if they needed help. The man told me their car had broken down and asked if I could give him and his daughters a ride home, which was about ten miles down the road.
I knew I was already running a little late for the Bible Study, so I was about to say, “I am sorry. I don’t think I have time to do that. I have to get to a Bible Study.” However, then a thought flashed in my mind. “Oops! This sounds familiar. A pastor doesn’t have time to help a stranger along the road because he has to get to a Bible Study. It seems like I have heard this story before. The Good Samaritan!” So, I said, “Sure, hop in the car.” I drove them home and was about twenty minutes late for the Bible Study.
Friends, the story of the Good Samaritan is one of the best known of Jesus’ parables. In fact, there are Good Samaritan laws to encourage people to stop and help when there is a car accident. The laws protect someone from being sued for you trying to help a victim.
Friends, as we continue our journey through the book of Luke, our text is Luke 10:29-37 (page 869). When I study this passage, I realize Jesus is probably saying much more to us than that we should stop and help people having car trouble. In fact, he is calling us to think and live in a way that may seem like a departure from what we consider normal. Let’s pause and pray that today the Lord would help us grasp the meaning and significance of this marvelous story.
Let’s start with a quick review of the text we explored last week (verses 25-28). An expert in the Old Testament Jewish law (we called him a “lawyer” even though he is more like a Bible scholar) asks Jesus, “How can I get eternal life?” Jesus responds, “Well, what does the Old Testament law say?” The man answers:
Luke 10:27 – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and “your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus says that’s right. That is what you need to do, and we noted that this is a good summary of what our purpose in life is – to love God and love other people. But the lawyer has one more question:
Luke 10:29 – Wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Apparently, the man is somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of “loving your neighbor as yourself.” He, perhaps, realizes he has not exactly been doing that. But maybe there is a loophole, maybe the definition of neighbor can be narrowed. Maybe it only includes a few people that he needs to love. Jesus’ answer is basically this: “Actually, the definition is a lot broader than you ever imagined.” In response to the questions, “Who is my neighbor?” and “What does it mean to love my neighbor?” Jesus tells this story:
Luke 10:30b – “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him up, and fled, leaving him half dead.”
The implication here is the victim is a Jewish man. The fifteen-mile journey from Jerusalem to Jericho took one through some rough, hilly terrain. It was not really uncommon for someone to be robbed along the way.
The south side of Chicago today is probably more dangerous, but by Iron Range standards, Jerusalem to Jericho is a pretty dangerous path.
Luke 10:31-32 – A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him (the man beaten and half-dead), he passed by on the other side. In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
Now, Jesus doesn’t tell us why these two first century clergymen just walk by the victim. Maybe they are on their way to a Bible Study or something in Jericho and are just too busy to help. Or maybe they are afraid the robbers are still around, and it would be dangerous to stop. Or perhaps they fear the man is already dead, and they didn’t want to risk ceremonial uncleanness by having contact with a dead body. Or maybe it just seems inconvenient to stop. So, they pass by on the other side of the road.
When I decide not to pick up a hitchhiker on Hwy 169, I always pull into the left lane because the farther away I am from the person, the less guilty I tend to feel about not stopping.
At this point in the story, some of Jesus’ audience may have thought, “OK, we have two clergymen walking by the injured guy. Now there will be a nice, ordinary Jewish fellow who will stop, help the man and be the hero of the story.” No, that is not what happens.
Luke 10:33 – But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion.
A Samaritan, a despised half-breed. Remember, Samaritans were apparently descendants of people from Israel’s northern kingdom who had been taken into captivity and inter-married with their pagan, Gentile captors. Jews did not like Samaritans. In their mind, there is no such thing as a “Good Samaritan.” Or, maybe the only Good Samaritan is a dead one.
The dislike a Neo-Nazi has for Jews or African Americans would not be any stronger than the antipathy Jews had for Samaritans. Yet, the Samaritan is the hero of the story. For us, it might be like having a prostitute or drug addict as the person that stops and helps the injured man.
In Jesus’ story:
Luke 10:34-35 – He (the Samaritan) went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine (first century medicine). Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii (that was two days’ wages – maybe $200 in today’s currency) and gave them to the innkeeper and said, “Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.”
This is exceptional generosity. The Samaritan is willing to help the injured man in any way he can. Then Jesus asks the lawyer a question which gets to the heart of the issue:
Luke 10:36 – “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
In other words, was it one of the religious professionals or was it the Samaritan? The lawyer responds:
Luke 10:37a – “The one who showed mercy to him,” he said.
He may not even want to utter the words “the Samaritan.”
Luke 10:37b – Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.”
In other words, go and live like that Samaritan.
Friends, over the centuries the Good Samaritan has been one of the most popular of Jesus’ parables. Some have tried to turn the story into an allegory – where the Samaritan represents Christ, the inn represents the church, and the innkeeper represents pastors.
However, we need to focus on what the text says and on what Jesus was communicating to the lawyer. Because, folks, that is the message the Lord has for us today.
There are two main points we should keep in mind:
#1 The command to love one’s neighbor is a universal command.
Who is my neighbor? Through this story Jesus says, “Any and every human being with whom we come in contact is our neighbor. We are to love that person.”
We might expect Jesus would have told a story where a Samaritan was the victim. Then, a good, godly Jew would come along and rescue the man. This would illustrate to the lawyer that his love should extend even to Samaritans.
By making the Samaritan the hero of the story, however, Jesus mixes everything up. He gets the attention of the audience by shocking them a bit so they recognize there are no ethnic boundaries when it comes to loving one’s neighbor. In fact, there are no boundaries at all when it comes to loving other people.
Let me ask this question: Who are the people you find most difficult to like, to get along with and to love?
Who are those people? Some of you might be thinking of a particular ethnic group – Native Americans, Blacks, Italians or Swedes. Others maybe think of a particular personality type. You don’t like people who are loud and assertive or those who have a volatile personality. Some of you might think of a certain political or religious group – like Presbyterians. Others are thinking of an individual – your boss, your ex, the guy across the street, the kid at school who is always picking on you. But, friend, the Lord calls you to love those people and that person, no matter who they are.
Friends, the reality is almost all of us in this room are nice to people who are nice to us. Though we sometimes get a little frustrated or irritated, we treat our friends and family pretty well.
However, when Jesus is talking about loving our neighbor, he has something more in mind. It includes even our enemies.
As someone said, “The Bible tells us to love both our neighbors and our enemies, which is no surprise since they are often the same people.”
Listen to what Jesus says to us in Matthew 5 – The Sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 5:43 – “You have heard that it was said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”
That was a wrong interpretation of the Old Testament law, but a popular one.
Matthew 5:44 – “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Love God. Love other people. That is what life is basically about. Part of obeying God’s command to love others is to love your enemies.
Matthew 5:46-47 – For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the pagans do the same?
Friends, as an American, you have a constitutional right to choose who you love and who you don’t. The United States government doesn’t require that you love anyone, much less everyone.
Jesus, however, says as a Christian, as someone who trusts and follows me, your love should be deep enough to include even your enemies.
If you are kind and generous to your friends and family members, that is wonderful. We should all be kind and generous toward those close to us. Yet, Jesus says it is nothing to brag about. Anyone can love the people that love him/her.
The real test is when you love people you are inclined not to like – people who you might consider your enemies. Maybe you have erected walls in your life, and you are saying to yourself, “I’m not going to love those people.” Or “I’m not going to love that individual.” Friend, if that is the case, it is time to start taking those walls down. Jesus calls us to a love which is deep enough to include even our enemies.
And it is also a love wide enough to include people we don’t even know.
Maybe you are thinking, “Well Jesus said we are to love our neighbor. So I really don’t have to worry about people living on the other side of the globe – those in Outer Mongolia, for example. Well, I don’t think Jesus intended for us to limit our love in any way. In some ways, we should even love people in Outer Mongolia.
Let me mention three things about loving people we have never met:
1) Don’t have any feelings of dislike and don’t wish any harm on people you don’t know. Though it may be hard to figure out how to love people we have never met, we should certainly not hate them.
2) God does expect us to love Christian brothers and sisters we have never met – no matter where they live. They, too, are part of the Body of Christ, the Christian family. When the Macedonian Christians sent money, of which they didn’t have a lot, to Jerusalem to help the Christians there who they have never met, they demonstrate that all Christians are part of one family.
3) When we learn about needs in other parts of the world, we should be concerned – whether it is people in East Africa starving because of a famine or people in Muslim-dominated countries who have never heard about Jesus. It should bring tears to our eyes. And it should motivate us to acts of love – even for people we have never met.
The command that I love my neighbor as myself is a command without any boundaries.
#2 Loving our neighbor involves not just words, but actions (this is clear from Jesus’ story).
I suspect when the lawyer summarized God’s commands as “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself,” he thinks he is already doing that. Part of this may be because of a defective understanding of who is included as a neighbor. It also, however, is likely because he has a diluted view of what love involves.
It is possible that as the priest and Levite walked by the injured man, they felt compassion. They may have felt very badly about the man’s condition. They may have debated in their minds, “Should I help this man or not?” They may have even said a prayer like, “Lord, please have mercy on this poor fellow.” The bottom line, however, is that neither of them took any action to help the victim.
The Samaritan provides a significant contrast. He does everything he can to help the wounded man. He even writes a blank check to the hotel.
There have been thousands of songs written about the emotion or feeling of love. We will hear some of the best of them tonight. Yes, feelings are an essential dimension of love. The real test, however – what really matters – are the actions that flow from those feelings. That is what loving your neighbor is all about.
Love God with your whole being. Love your neighbor as yourself. That is a great summary of the Old Testament law and a great summary of what life is really about. Last Sunday, we focused on the loving God part. Today we have explored the loving your neighbor part.
Let me conclude with three practical things to keep in mind:
#1 None of us always loves others as we should.
As human beings, it is pretty much natural for us to focus on our interests, rather than those of other people. It is not always easy to show genuine love to those closest to us, much less to people we don’t really know or to our enemies. We often fail to love as we should.
That ought to bother us. We should feel guilt over our failure to love. But there is no need to be stuck in that guilt. There is one person who did love perfectly. That is Jesus. When he died on the cross, he died for all of our failures to love.
When we turn to Jesus Christ and put our trust in him, those sins are forgiven. We no longer need to feel guilty because as believers in Jesus, God is (1 John 1:9) faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
That cleansing means we are free from the shame and embarrassment for our sin. Jesus loved others perfectly so that when we fail to do so, we can go to bed and sleep at night knowing God has forgiven us and knowing we will have another opportunity to love tomorrow.
#2 It is that forgiveness and our experience of God’s grace and love that motivates and enables us to love others.
Now, all human beings are capable of love to some degree. Yet, the type of love Jesus describes – love that consistently has the depth and breadth to love even our enemies is unique, I believe, to those who know they are loved unconditionally by God. That becomes evident in some of the really hard situations. Two come to mind:
In 2006, Charles Carl Roberts walked into the one-room Nickels Mine Schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and shot eight girls, ages 6-13, killing five of them. He then killed himself.
In the aftermath of that horrible tragedy, the people in that Amish colony made it clear that they were willing to forgive that man and bore no ill will of any kind toward his family. Why? Because they have been forgiven by Jesus, they were compelled to forgive others.
Sixty years before that, in 1946, Czeslaw Godleski was part of a gang roaming the countryside in post-war Germany. At one farmhouse, they shot ten people. Nine of them died. The one survivor was Wilhelm Hamelmann.
After serving 25 years in prison for being an accessory to those murders, Godleski was released. However, he had nowhere to go, nowhere to live, no way to support himself. Wilhelm Hamelmann, that one survivor, heard of the situation, rented an apartment for Godleski and provided for his needs until Godleski was able to get a job, make some money and move to another city.
When asked why he had shown such kindness to a man who was partly responsible for killing nine of his family members, Hamelmann said, “Jesus Christ died for my sins and forgave me. Should I not then forgive this man?”
Or we could put it the same way the Apostle John did:
1 John 4:11 – Dear friends, if God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
#3 When it comes to loving others, we need to do it.
Talking about it isn’t what counts. We need to do it! We need to take time to get to know other people and what their needs are. We need to be willing to set aside our own plans and schedule and be available to help and encourage others.
Our concern for people must include not just their physical well-being, but their spiritual well-being. In fact, it is foolish to think we truly care about someone if we are not doing what we can to encourage that person to trust and follow Jesus.
Loving others doesn’t mean we always do what they want us to do. Love often means we tell people truth – even when they don’t want to hear it.
But it is always about thinking not just of our own interests, not just what will make our lives easier, but of the interests of others. And we can help that person become the individual the Lord wants him/her to be. That is what the Good Samaritan did. And that is what the Lord is calling each of us to do.
May the Lord help us to grow in love for the people around us today and in all the days ahead!