Leroy Coote – 8th August 2021
“Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours” are words that have been on the airwaves of TV networks for the past 36 years in the show Neighbours. But – what does it mean to be a good neighbour? The answer to this is found in that well known parable of the Good Samaritan which at the start, calls us to love God and love our neighbour. I’m going to look at this parable under the following headings: Eternal life and how to get it, from verses 25-28; Neighbourly love and how it goes beyond the context of nationality, from verses 29-35; Neighbourly love in a 21st century context, from verses 36-37. By the end of this, what will become clear is how we are to behave as neighbours both in the church and outside of the church as well as being clear on the foundation for neighbourly conduct. Not only that, we shall see clearly what loving God and loving our neighbour looks like in practice - especially to strangers.
So let us start by looking at the question of Eternal life which is my first point of three. In Luke’s gospel, there are a couple of times the question of inheriting eternal life is asked. This is one instance, but the same question is also asked by the rich young ruler in Luke 18. Even though it is only asked twice in Luke, the fact that it is repeated indicates that it is an important question in the mind of the Jewish people. However, the way the question is asked in verse 25 is interesting: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” What is interesting in this is the phrase “I do”. This implies that there is human ability assumed by the expert in the law in attaining eternal life. Jesus responds by telling the expert of the law that he is to do what is written in the law. What is written in the law? The expert in the law responds by saying this in verse 27, “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, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” This is also in the Jewish law – the Torah – which is the first five books in the bible, and specifically, this command is found in the book of Deuteronomy. The law is sacred to the expert in the law and we will see in this reading how important the law is to the Jewish people. Jesus responds to the expert in the law by saying, “Do this and you will live.” The question for us now becomes: What does it mean to ‘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, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
Let us look at the first part of that. The first part means that we are to love God with every part of our being which is spelt out with the use of the word – heart, soul, strength and mind. It means that if we are to take this seriously, then we are to be totally devoted to God. While the expert in the law says this command, Jesus responds by saying, “do this and you will live” in verse 28. In other words, loving God first and then loving your neighbour will lead to eternal life. The loving God aspect when expanded to include the whole of the New Testament will result in a person accepting Jesus as their Lord and Saviour but also in response to their love of God and acceptance of Jesus, a person will obey the commands of Jesus. In John 15:13, Jesus tells his disciples in the upper room that “if you love me, you will obey my commands.” This is important to note because loving God means that we also love Jesus and that is a consistent theme throughout the New Testament, given that Jesus is the central figure of the Bible. So, the first of these two commands is for all of us to love God with everything we have within our being. Before I look at the second command, let me say that the combination of loving God and loving your neighbour makes perfect sense because one cannot relate to God without relating to his creation.
The second command or the second part of the response of the expert in the law refers to the question of: who is my neighbour? Another way of putting that question is: Who am I supposed to love the way God wants me to love? Let me start by giving you the Jewish understanding of neighbour. For the Jews, the term “neighbour” was understood to apply to their fellow Jews. But was that Jesus’ understanding?
This is where the parable of the Good Samaritan starts and it is here that we discover what neighbourly love is which is my second of three points. This is found in verses 30-35. As I mentioned last week, a parable consists of a familiar scenario explaining in parallel an unfamiliar truth. Let us see how this works in this parable. In verse 30, we have a familiar scenario of the time. Let me read it for you, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.” The setting of this story is the Jericho Road which is a gruelling 30 km that climbs 1200 metres from Jericho to Jerusalem. This was part of the major route Jews would take when traveling from Galilee to Judea. This road was notorious for bands of robbers and thus quite dangerous. Jesus highlights the danger on this road because he talks about a man who was attacked by robbers. Not only that, he was stripped of his clothes, beaten and left half-dead. This is a horrific attack and what was quite possible on this road was that he was left there. This is a very realistic scenario that Jesus presents here. What is even more possible is that the man could be lying there half-dead for a very long time before someone.
We know from verse 31 that a priest happened to be going down the same road. In Jewish society, the priest was one who ministered in the Jewish temple and was to be a person who stood for what God believed in. If he loved the Lord God and his neighbour, you would think he would help the half-dead man. But, at the end of verse 31, he walked around the man and passed by on the other side. Why would he do that? Was this man a sinner? Was he a non-Jew, given that Jews apparently only view Jews as their neighbours? Is there anything in the Jewish law that would allow this behaviour? Whilst there is no reason given for the priest’s action, could there be something that could save him or even lead to a possible justification under the Jewish law for his behaviour? Well, Leviticus 19 tells us to love our neighbour. The Jewish thinking on neighbour was that neighbour was a fellow Jew as mentioned earlier. We don’t know if this man was a Jew or not so we have no idea if he had the opportunity to be neighbourly. Even the defilement laws of Leviticus 21 do not give the priest any justification for his actions. Therefore, the only thing that the priest will be guilty of in the end is potentially murder or manslaughter because he is leaving a half-dead man out on this dangerous road to die.
That was the priest but is the Levite any better? The Levite is also connected to the priest because he assisted the priest with his duties, performed the temple liturgy (especially the music – thus like the church organist) and policed the temple. BUT - was he going to be any different to the one ranked above him in the synagogue hierarchy – the priest? The answer as mentioned in verse 32 is, “No”, as he also passed by him on the other side. So what we have now is this: two high ranking officials from the synagogue go past a man who has been left half-dead on the road and not even go to help him. The optics of this appear horrendous with both the priest and the Levite implicitly guilty of manslaughter if the man dies. The tension in this parable is palpable: is this man going to die?
Are the priest and the Levite going to be guilty from just leaving him there lying half-dead on the road? Enter the Samaritan! and with his entry, the presentation of the unfamiliar truth. The Samaritan is important to this parable because he gets three verses on his activity whereas the priest and the Levite only got one verse each for their activity. Why is this so? Well friends, we are about to find out. For a Jew, the Samaritan was one of the least respected people group. Eating with the Samaritans was considered the same as eating pork which for a Jew meant that the Samaritan was considered unclean and therefore, to be avoided. So, from a nationality perspective, the Samaritan would be the last person that the expert in the law would have expected to be the one to help the guy who was half-dead. This would also have upset the expert in the law because the Jews thought they were exemplary. But unlike the Jewish religious figures of earlier, the Samaritan took pity on the man. Pity is, according to Andrew Lloyd Webber, an aspect of love. But the Samaritan starts the process of loving the man lying on the road. The Samaritan met him at his point of need just as Jesus did with people throughout much of his ministry. The man’s point of need in verse 30 was that he was left half-dead.
So the Samaritan bandaged his wounds to stop him bleeding to death but before that, he poured on oil and wine to soothe the wounds as well as disinfect them. But he didn’t leave him on the road because he put the man on his donkey and took him to an inn. But he still didn’t dump and run. He took him to the inn, but he also took care of him there. Innkeepers were only interested in taking in travellers and were not noted for their care. So, it appears that the Samaritan stayed with the man overnight. This amount of care goes beyond pity but goes on to love. He gave up plenty to help this just as Jesus gave up his life for our sin. But the man had to go, but he paid the innkeeper to look after him for a period of time but not only that, told the innkeeper that he (the Samaritan) would look after any extra expense that the innkeeper would occur. You can see the depth of love that is shown here by the Samaritan. We don’t know where he was heading but once he saw the man on the ground, his focus became caring for this part of God’s creation without regard for his personal circumstances. This was the unfamiliar, someone showing loving action without regard to race. The Samaritan shows neighbourly love towards this man by caring for him as much as he possibly could. In effect, the Samaritan modelled God’s love. God’s love is this – meeting the person at their point of need, attending to their need without any regard for their race or knowledge of the man’s background and showing him how God truly loves his creation. In effect, the Samaritan showed this incredible act of love – to a complete stranger. Would we do that? I hope and pray that we do as that is what God calls us to do.
How then does the expert in the law respond to this? By taking a lesson in mercy which is my third and final point as found in verses 36-37. Jesus asks the expert in the law who the neighbour was, and he answered it was the one who had mercy on him. Jesus then told him to go and do likewise. What does this mean for us as a parish? It means that we treat everybody equally which means all church members are to be loved the way the Samaritan loved the beaten-up man which was that he met him at his point of need and was devoted to him. Are we devoted equally to each other or just select individuals? Not only that, the Samaritan didn’t discriminate – and nor should we between those who are new in the church and those who have been in the parish for a long time and those we know better than others. We also need to love God first and then love our neighbour. And who is our neighbour? Any person that we come across in our lives and to each of these people we meet, we are to share the love of Jesus with them as practically as the Samaritan did. How did he do that? He met him at his point of need. He looked after his need until his need was met. Let us all love God and love all of our neighbours without discrimination by meeting them at their point of need just as the Samaritan did, and just as Jesus has done for us, and a relationship with Jesus is what the Bible teaches that everyone in the world needs.