Now that we explored the relationship between the greatest commandment–love God–and the second greatest commandment–love neighbor, that is, love for neighbor is a pretty good indicator of our love or lack of love for God, the natural question that follows is, who is my neighbor?
Let’s turn back to our main text–Luke 10:25-37.
In Luke 10, the lawyer who is testing Jesus wants to (v29) justify himself so he asked Jesus the same question, who is my neighbor?
It’s an interesting choice of word. The lawyer wanted to JUSTIFY himself. What’s going through his mind as he is asking this question? He’s probably thinking, I’m a good person. I’m polite. I open the door at Starbucks for total strangers. On the freeway, I let cars into my lane. He was probably expecting Jesus to say something to confirm his self-assessment. That he is a good person. And if he somehow missed a neighbor on his list, he wants to be told who his neighbor is so that he can go out and do it. He wanted to justify HIMSELF. This is an attitude of self-justification.
I believe this is not far off from the way we think about ourselves. If you asked anyone in this room–do you think you are a loving person–I bet the vast majority of us would say, yes. I’m loving. I love my neighbors. I saw hi to my next door neighbor whenever I see them while I am taking out the trash. I love my spouse. I love my kids. I love my church. And we use the same word “love” to say, I love legos, I love ice cream, I love my dog, I love my cat, I love my roommate. You see, there it is. What more proof do you need? I am a loving person!
The attitude of self-justification, the attitude of here is proof that I am justified before a holy God, is possible only if you narrowly define who your neighbor is. Our love is highly selective. You can define neighbor as only people whom you like. People you get along with. Your friends. You remember their birthdays and you buy them dinner and gifts. And because you are good to your friends, you say, see, I am a loving person. The boundaries that define who my neighbors are is friendship. If I don’t get along with you, or I don’t like you, we don’t “click,” then you are outside the boundaries. So I can safely ignore you.
Or, you may define your boundaries around your family. And since you are good to your father and mother and kids, you assume, I must be a loving person. The underlying attitude is, give me something I can do, something I am good at, a group that I can love really well so that I can justify myself. If you define the boundaries even tighter and you live on an island of one, you can think, I am the most loving person in the world because I am really good at loving myself.
How does this notion of self-justifying love where you limit your pool of neighbors to a small, pre-selected group compare with the Biblical definition of love?
The Bible is clear that you don’t need to be a Christian to be good to certain kinds of people. In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, let me read from Matt 7:9–
9 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
Parents don’t give their kids stones for breakfast, or a panko crusted snake instead of fish for dinner. We are evil. We are sinful. Yet, we know how to be good to our own.
Jesus makes the same argument a couple of chapters earlier in Matt 5, same Sermon on the Mount, he says, anyone can love someone who loves them. You scratch my back, I will scratch your back. Your boss, you are good to your boss because your boss does your performance reviews which determine whether or not you will get a raise or a promotion. Even tax collectors can love like that. Even Gentiles who don’t know anything about God can greet their own brothers. But can you love your enemy? Woah, wait a minute. You are crossing the line. That’s outside the boundaries. This is where it gets hard. Enemy? You distance yourself from enemies. We get them out of your life so that you don’t have to be reminded of the condition of our hearts.
The biblical definition of love is vastly different from what often passes for love. Love for neighbor involves removing all boundaries of who your neighbor is and who your neighbor isn’t. There are no boundaries.
v30 – it says, a man from Jerusalem was robbed and left for dead. It doesn’t say what his ethnicity is, but because this is a parable and Jesus is a master teacher, you can bet that he is trying to make a point. I am pretty sure that the man left for dead was a Jewish man. You’ll see in a minute why I think that’s the case. The other characters include a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. The priest and the Levite are two highly religious Jewish men and the Samaritan is a half-Jew, half-Gentile.
To the Jews, Samaritans were considered to be half-breeds because they were Jews who married non-Jews. In 721 BC, during the Assyrian captivity of the northern kingdom of Israel some of the Jews were taken back to Assyria and some stayed in the region. And those who stayed inter-married with their Assyrian captors and these half Jews became known as Samaritans.
The Samaritans had their own temple, their own version of the Torah–the first five books of the Old Testament–and their own religious system. There was a disagreement among the Jews and Samaritans as to where the proper place of worship. Incidentally, this is why the Samaritan woman in John 4 is confused where to worship. The Jews said, you got to worship in Jerusalem at the temple. The Samaritans said, no, you have to worship on Mount Gerizim.
As you can expect, there was a nasty, racially charged, civil feud between the “pure” Jews and these half-Jews. Do you think Jesus was trying to bring out this primal hatred and racial tensions? I submit to you, he was. Jesus wasn’t very PC. He was laying it on this Jewish lawyer. He was putting this parable in his face and hitting him where it hurts. The person you hate, a Samaritan, loved the very person you should have loved, your own Jewish countryman.
The point being, if you want to love your neighbor, then you need to remove all boundaries. There are no boundaries. Everyone is a potential neighbor in need.
Love for neighbor is a life of constant interruption. The priest and the Levite. Two highly religious people. It’s interesting that Luke records that both men crossed over on the OTHER SIDE. Why do you think? If they got too near and saw the half dead man up close, it would make them feel guilty for leaving the man there to die. So they crossed on the other side to create some distance between them and the half dead man so that they wouldn’t have to see the person up close.
Why didn’t they help? We can presume they were too busy. I bet they were off to do good things. To care for THEIR people. Prayer time at the synagogue, perhaps. There is a danger for me as a pastor that I have to fight where I only care about MY church. MY people. We only care about US. And we can go through life walking by neighbors every day of the week because it’s not even on our radar to consider how we might love outsiders. The priest and the Levite were too busy to be interrupted. And I think Jesus is pointing out that they they didn’t care enough to be interrupted.
We’re all busy. You’re busy. I’m busy. If you are a student, I have news for you. Life just keeps getting busier. Right now, you have to worry about 1 person. Then, you get married and you have to worry about a second person. Then, you have kids. 3, 4, 5 people you have to worry about beyond yourself.
Add to that this command to love your neighbor. Remember, no boundaries means you are opening yourself up to people and situations that come up unexpectedly. These are unplanned. Just like the Samaritan. When he started his day, he had no idea he would come across this half dead man. He was interrupted. He put his plans on hold. Love for neighbors is boundary-less and filled with interruptions.
Love for neighbor involves a willingness to get your hands dirty. The nameless man was stripped. He was naked. He was beaten up within inches of his life. He was left half dead. He must have been covered with blood. A naked, bleeding, half-dead man. This is not like giving a homeless man a few bucks. This is not like writing a check from the comfort of your Lazy Boy. This is hands dirty, clothing stained kind of love.
Loving someone is messy business. Physically, mentally, emotionally. There are no boundaries. You can’t say, someone else will take care of him. That’s someone else’s ministry. The man was there, bleeding, he was about to die. It was unexpected, unplanned. An interruption. And it was messy. If you don’t want to get your hands dirty helping others, then Christianity is not for you. God’s love is not in you. Only someone filled with the love of God can love others like this.
Love for neighbor involves a willingness to go the extra mile. This Samaritan was all in. He didn’t just leave a few bucks beside this half dead man with a note, someone, please help. v34 – not only did he stop and embrace this interruption, not only did he bandage his wounds, but he cared enough to pour oil and wine over the wounds.
Elijah fell the other day and got a pretty deep gash on his head. When your own child is hurt, you spare no expense. You pull out the hydrogen peroxide, neosporin, you bandage it up. You call the doctor. In Elijah’s case, I have a confession. He’s a tough kid. He barely cried. And the bleeding stopped right away so I didn’t take him in to the hospital for stitches, though I probably should have. Bad dad. Thank goodness for Mom. Jackie took him in to the doctor the following day to make sure the wound was not infected. If it is your own kid, you spare no expense, you do whatever is needed. This Samaritan treated this stranger the same way he would his own son or daughter or loved one. He washed the wound with oil and wine.
He didn’t stop there. He put the stranger on his donkey and took him to an inn. And he paid for it, not just for one night but however many nights it would take for this stranger to recover. How much did he spend? By our standards, a bottle of oil is $5. A bottle of wine – I am not sure, I never bought wine. Let’s say $20. Then, even if he took this man to Motel 6, a lower end motel, it costs $50/night. Let’s say he stayed there 3 nights. That’s already $175. Not to mention the loss of time. The Samaritan spent the first night there at the inn by this man’s side. This was costly love to a total stranger, in fact, an “enemy.”