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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

Who Is My Neighbor

Luke 10:25-37

Lesson audio

In this familiar story of the Good Samaritan we find one of the experts of the Law asking Jesus a simple, familiar question. I suspect this answer is one taught by rote to young students, and Jesus turns it around to the man. They would be in benign, if simple, agreement if it were not for the lawyers drive to justify himself. It is a common fault. How often will the marriage counselor hear, “Tell him (her) that I’m right!” The problem here is the paradigm used, not the Scripture. It is known to all that to get the right answers you must ask the right questions. Less well known is this: even the right questions must be asked in the right way. Self-justification as a motive means you care about the questioner, not the question.

Luk 10:25-37 NIV On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (26) "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" (27) He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'[3]; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'[4]" (28) "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." (29) But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" (30) In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. (31) A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. (32) So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. (33) But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. (34) He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. (35) The next day he took out two silver coins[5] and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' (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."

Cast of Characters

We may begin in this drama by examining the cast of characters.

The traveler

The traveler was alone on the Jericho road – an act of folly even into the 20th century. It was much safer to travel in a group. To put it bluntly, our traveler is rather dumb. Worse, he was likely to be ignored because bandits would often waylay the lone traveler and then leave him on the ground, hoping to entice some other traveler into the same trap.

The Samaritan

The hearers of this story would most certainly have been shocked at the person who stopped to help. Samaritans and Jews hated each other. But give that a thought; this Samaritan stopped to help a man whom he knew despised him. Indeed, the Samaritan did so despite the fact that he was on a journey, not just a trip to Jericho. We may observe also:

  • He came prepared – he had his own first aid kit. How often have Christians said, “I wasn’t prepared – I had nothing to give?”
  • He followed through, leaving nothing undone. He was not afraid to enlist the innkeeper’s services at his own expense. He finished what he started. He got involved and stayed involved to the end of the matter.
  • His credit was good!
The priest

Older and more literal translations tell us that the priest’s arrival was “by chance” or “by coincidence.” It was “just one of those things.” We see strange sights along the roads of life, and often enough we look, cluck sorrowfully and move on. After all, it was pure coincidence that we were there, right? Or is coincidence actually the providence of God?

One thing we do know. If the traveler dies in the priest’s care, the priest is ceremonially unclean for seven days. Which means he could not perform his duties as a priest. You can hear him thinking, “prior commitments, can’t take the risk.” Do we make our appointments subject to, “If the Lord wills it?”[1]

The Levite

We might examine two points here:

  • “Passed him by on the other side” – took no risks. Did he congratulate himself on how astute that was?
  • “Saw him” – the phrase literally means “stared at him.”[2] The traveler was nothing more that a traffic accident; the Levite a rubbernecker.

Cost of Compassion

Pontius Pilate was merciful with Christ – until it got risky. We might examine the risks, and see if they apply to us:

  • There is, of course, the risk of physical harm. The bandits might be lying in wait. You could get some terrible tropical disease on a short term missions trip, too. Does our compassion override our fear?
  • There is also the risk of changing your “emotional distance” from the victim. Most of us would be happy to pick up the cell phone and call 911 to summon aid to the accident victim. But would you stop to help on a back country road in the middle of the night?
  • There is the risk of “getting involved.” You have other things to do, places to go, schedules to keep. Such an entanglement might cost you the opportunities you have claimed as your own.

If you do stop, it will cost you. Let’s examine the expense report.

  • At the least it means the use of your possessions. The Samaritan put the man on his own donkey – and walked. We tend to think our possessions really belong to us, and we hoard them well. Do we own them, or do they own us?
  • As in this parable, we would probably part with some cash. This is often the easiest of sacrifices – until it becomes open-ended. Then it becomes a matter of faith.
  • In our time, we would need to consider the impact on our credit rating as well. Do you really want this on your Visa?
Impact on others

Perhaps the greatest excuse is the impact our actions will have on others. It’s not so much that I mind myself, but my family…

  • Sometimes it affects our professional relationships. We like to live our lives in a well compartmentalized fashion. The office world should never even know, much less be impacted, by our charitable actions. It’s as if we need the boss’s permission to be charitable.
  • Often, your actions obligate your family in various ways. Some children bring home stray cats; my daughter brings home stray people.[3]
  • Your reputation is often at risk too. It’s one thing to help build an orphanage; another to bail a friend out of jail. Both may be compassion; one is socially approved.

The Imitation of Christ

The rule of conduct for a Christian is now expressed as, “What would Jesus do?” But throughout most of Christian history this has been known as the imitation of Christ, and we shall use this older title. How does the example of Christ compare to our Samaritan?

No “respect of persons”

As James tells us,

Jas 2:1-9 NIV

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. (2) Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. (3) If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," (4) have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (5) Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? (6) But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? (7) Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong? (8) If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself,"[1] you are doing right. (9) But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.

We see it clearly: just because the one we are helping doesn’t quite meet our standards, we are still bound to treat all as children of God. Indeed, our Lord tells us that if we do it for “the least of these” we do it for him.[4]

There is an even greater case. We are taught that the way to deal with our enemies is to show love to them.[5] Isn’t this easiest when we have the opportunity to show compassion on them? Isn’t this how we turn enemies into friends?


“The one who had mercy on him.” May I suggest that being the merciful is of great benefit, even when examined solely on the rewards to the merciful?

  • Christ, our example, was merciful on the Cross – to us. We cannot hope to match this example, but we can imitate it.
  • If we do, we are assured of Christ’s mercy on the Day of Judgment.
  • Besides which, the merciful sleep better at night.
Passing on the faith

The examples of such mercy is not lost on your family. Compassion, it seems, is hereditary. But it can also be acquired. Many of us have participated in prison visits organized by Bill Glass.[6] This is compassion; it is also passing the faith along.

But the great use of such an example is in the church itself. If I go to visit those in prison, that’s an act of compassion. But if in so doing, I and those with me change the way the church sees prison ministry, then we have given compassion as a gift to the church.

The cheerful giver

There is a secret in this. Giving of compassion is like other forms of giving: the Lord loves the cheerful giver. How, then, am I to be cheerfully compassionate to those in need?

  • First, act in kindness, not in disapproval. Judge not the sinner; be kind in remedying the fruits of sin.
  • Do so in humility; it is the providence of God that you have the means to give.
  • Do so with patience; a repentant sinner is still just that: a sinner. And likely to do it again.

If you will, please, examine the verb you use for this. If you are “contributing” that implies a limited commitment. It may be all that you can reasonably do, so there is no shame in that. The gift, however, is one way only. But if you see yourself as “sharing” then the gifts can flow both ways.

Finally, there is this: what we give was first given to us. In our compassion we take those things which God in his mercy has seen fit to give us, and pass them on to those of his children less blessed. Even if we are the Samaritan outcast, God’s mercy will triumph through us.

[1] James 4:13-16

[2] In all three cases, this is the verb used.

[3] And we’re very pleased with her for doing so.

[4] Matthew 25:31-46

[5] Matthew 5:43-45

[6] Bill Glass, Champions for Life. www.billglasscfl.org.

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