This morning we are going to be looking at the second half of that verse...In Matthew 22:36-40 a teacher of the law asks Jesus,
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
So this passage is so important that Jesus says, “You can sum up the entire requirement of the Old Testament if you just do these two things.” But while both of these two requirements seem easy...they are not.
About a month or so ago, Bri and I were sitting in my office at the house talking about various things. We started talking about the Bible and being a Christian, and she expressed a very common emotion. She said, “The Bible says that we are supposed to love other people...even those who hurt us or make fun of us. But I don’t really want to love those people.”
You know...I agree. I don’t want to love those people either. I don’t want to love the person who calls me names, embarrasses me, or who lies about me. And when I’m honest with myself...there are some people whom I just simply do not like and don’t want to love.
The call to love our neighbor is both a challenge and stumbling block for us. It is hard to love those whom we dislike.
And because loving our neighbor is difficult for us as individuals...it is also hard for us when we come together as the Church...And the Church has not always loved its neighbor well. In a recent poll, people were asked what they thought of when they thought of Christians...some of their answers were: hypocritical, prideful, critical, judgmental, close-minded, anti-gay. Not once does anyone say...loving.
Here is a challenging reminder from John 13:35 it says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." The people are supposed to know we are Jesus’ disciples by the way we love others. So it is really important for us to learn to love one another.
Today we are going to look at the Great Commandment as told in Luke and see what we can learn...
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"The lawyer here Luke is not what we typically think of when we think of a lawyer. He would have been an expert in Jewish-Moral Law...someone who would have studied the Old Testament deeply, taught it to others, and helped interpret its meaning. His salvation was already secured by the fact that he was part of the chosen people of God evidenced by his keeping the law.
"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"
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'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
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. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 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. The next day he took out two silver coins 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.'
"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
His initial question is not one of genuine interest...it is to test Jesus; to see if he passes the test; to find fault with Him. But, as usual, Jesus turns the question around to probe deeply into the man’s own motivations.
The emphasis of this story lies on the “Love your neighbor” part of the passage. You see in Luke 10:29 that the man wanted to justify himself. He wanted to clarify who his neighbor was because...because there are some people that he did not want to consider his neighbor...And he knew the type of people that Jesus hung out with.
It is easy to be self-righteous and look down on the man...the passage has set us up by saying that the Lawyer wants to justify himself...but really when God tells me to “Love my neighbor” I too want clarification. There are people that I don’t want to be considered my neighbor because I don’t want to have to be nice to them.
This story challenges the three ways we try to clarify...limit...God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves...
- We try to limit when.
- We try to limit who.
- We try to limit how much.
The first character is a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho who gets robbed, beaten, and left for dead. He is most likely leaving Jerusalem having come to worship at the Temple, and he is traveling a notoriously dangerous stretch of road nicknamed the Road of Blood. It is called this because of all the people who end up robbed, beaten, and dead.
And that is what happens to this man. Thieves attack him, beat him, strip him of all he has, and leave him for dead.
Two other characters in this story arrive and quickly pass by the man. First a priest arrives and passes by without helping, and then a Levite. To the listener this may have been expected or unexpected depending on how they viewed these men. Who knows why they passed by without helping. The Bible doesn’t say; leaving it to our imagination.
These men were professional “helpers.” The priest was considered to be man’s representative before God and God’s representative to man. The Levite was the person who helped care for the poor and the hurting at the Temple. He would have been responsible for collecting the alms for the poor and giving them to people in need. And yet, they both passed this man by.
It could have been time limitations (they were in a hurry), it could have been religious requirements (they could have been avoiding ritual uncleanness. There were strict guidelines for coming into contact with the dead; though there were exceptions for helping people)...or it could be that they are traveling on a stretch of road called the Road of Blood.
I don’t know about you, but I am not interested in spending any amount of time on a road with that kind of nickname...and I’m sure they weren’t either. This could be a trap...the thieves could be waiting around the next rock to rob the person trying to help. Anything could happen. They could end up like this man if they took the time to help.
It is like hearing a cry for help from a dark alley, and seeing a shadowy figure laying on the ground a 15 feet in asking for help. Most of us would walk past...maybe wanting to help...but unwilling because the situation is clearly dangerous.
The fourth character, and the one who demonstrates love for his neighbor, is the most unexpected in Jesus’ story. You see Jesus is telling a story using a very standard triad or a three character format. This is a common rhetorical devise. There are two characters who do not do as would be expected and then the third, the one who gets it right, challenges the us in some way.
We see something like this with the story of the 3 pigs...the house of hay, the house of sticks, and the house of bricks. The first two are examples of foolish swine construction. Pigs should not build their homes out of hay and sticks. The third shows how truly wise and smart pigs will build their homes...out of bricks like here in Huber.
In Jesus’ story you have the Priest, the Levite, and then the character who gets it right. The Lawyer was probably expecting to hear the third person being the average Jewish person who comes along and helps.
Instead, Jesus says the man is a Samaritan.
This would have been more than just a challenge to the lawyer. This was a shock and an outrage. Jews and Samaritans hated each other.
Their religions were similar, but different...with each believing they were the chosen people and the other a distortion of the true faith. The quickest way to make the trip from northern Israel to the Temple in Jerusalem (which every male was required to take at least once a year) ran through the Samaritan town of Samaria...and yet Jews would add miles and days to their travel just to go around Samaria.
This is a hatred that ran deep on both sides.
We are so far removed from Samaritans. We don’t know any Samaritans, and, because of this story, we may have favorable impressions of Samaritans. But for this part of the story to hit home with us, we have to put ourselves in a similar mindset as the Lawyer.
Think for a moment of someone whom you hate...or if you are too Christian to actually acknowledge that you hate someone...some one whom you just like dislike a lot. If it helps, just think of someone who at the sound of their voice you cringe. Or, a group of people that every time you listen to them...you just want to hit yourself in the head with a hammer...or them in the head with a hammer.
Got it? Got the image of that person? That is the same reaction the Lawyer would have had to the appearance of a Samaritan in the story
Now hold on to the person you “dislike strongly” because we are going to come back to them in a minute.
Not only did this hated Samaritan help the man...he went above and beyond to care for the man. He bandaged his wounds, medicated him, and paid for his recovery. This is a costly endeavor. Had the Samaritan bandaged the man’s wounds and gotten him to a safe location, this would have been a good moral story about how to treat our neighbors. But Jesus is making a strong statement about Love for our neighbor and what it means to be part of the Gospel story.
Love, true love, is what brings us together...oh wait...that the Princess Bride. No, love, real love costs. It has to cost us something. And this is reflective of a Savior who loves us so much that He is willing to accept any cost to restore our relationship with God. This call to love our neighbor in this way is simply Jesus saying, “See what I have done? See how much it costs me to love? Go and love those around you.”
Jesus is making some bold claims
- Real neighbor love is shown anytime, anywhere; even when there are perfectly good reasons not to help.
- Real neighbor love is shown to anyone; especially those who we have every reason to hate.
- Real neighbor loves is shown regardless of cost, and, in fact, is not real love unless it costs.
This story challenges us to change.
There are two ways to get a person to change their behavior...
The first is to change his or her morality- If Jesus had said, “See the Samaritan? You need to be like the Samaritan! Go and be like the Samaritan.” That would never work. We have tried it and tired it in the Christian church and it only leads to a list of rules that make people feel prideful for having accomplished them, feel fearful because they have never been able to live up to them, or they use it to control God (I do the right things therefore God has to do such-and-such).
This is the typical way of doing things for most religions. Every major religion around the world encourages its adherents to be good moral people. And most often it just boils down to a list of commands.
The Christian faith is supposed to be different...but it often hasn’t been. Why? because commands are easier. You know exactly what you have to do. You know who is in and who is out because they are not following the commands. People in power can use rules to to manipulate and control those under them.
But Jesus wants real transformation. So Jesus uses the second way to change someone...
He changes his or her perspective
It is important to realize where the Lawyer sees himself in the story. If Jesus had put the Lawyer in the place of the Samaritan, this would have been just another moralistic story. But Jesus wanted to change the focus.
The Lawyer had asked, “Who is my neighbor?” But Jesus doesn’t answer that question. He answers the more important question, “Whose neighbor am I?”#
Every time we hear a story...we subconsciously place ourselves in the story. We see ourselves in one of the characters...either in the way they act or the way emotions and thoughts that take place.
By telling the story the way he did, Jesus forces the lawyer to associate himself not with the Samaritan who is helpful and shows kindness; he would never want to be associated with the Samaritan. The Lawyer then had to associate himself with the one of the other three characters in the story. It wouldn’t be the Priest and Levite, because it is obvious that they are not showing love to their neighbor. So the Lawyer is left only with the man laying beaten, helpless, and dying on the road...looking for help and having to accept help from the person he most despises in the world.
Whose neighbor and I? From whom and I willing to accept kindness and be loved?
The Lawyer was used to rules. He obeyed rules. He wanted to know the legal definition of “neighbor” so he could live according to that. For him, neighbor had been all those people who were like him or those he liked.
But Jesus uses this story to challenge that and forces him, and us to change our perspective and see ourselves in need of help with the only our most hated person being willing to help.
When we change perspective and ask ourselves...If I am in that situation how willing am I to accept help...we know who our neighbor is and we know what it means to really love our neighbor. This story challenges us to the very depths of our prejudice and hate and dislike for those whom we find unworthy.
Remember that person I had you think about earlier. Reread the story of the Good Samaritan and place yourself in the story as the man laying beaten along the road. People, your people, people you like and love and expect to help...just pass you by unwilling to help. But then coming toward you is that person...maybe it is the person of that particular race, or the person of that particular political association, or the drug dealer across the street, or the person of that orientation.
Miroslav Volf is a modern author and scholar who wrote a great book called Exclusion and Embrace...if I could ever get all the way through it. It explores this concept of how to love neighbor, especially really bad ones, without losing yourself or losing accountability for the wrong they have done.
He opens the book with a story of his own struggle to love and forgive...
After I finished my lecture Professor Jurgen Moltmann stood up and asked one of his typical questions, both concrete and penetrating: “But can you embrace a cetnik?” It was the winter of 1993. For months now the notorious Serbian fighters called “cetnik” had been sowing desolation in my native country, herding people into concentration camps, raping women, burning down churches, and destroying cities. I had just argued that we ought to embrace our enemies as God has embraced us in Christ. Can I embrace a cetnik--the ultimate other, so to speak, the evil other? What would justify embrace? Where would I draw the strength for it? What would it do to my identity as a human being and as a Croat? It took me a while to answer, though I immediately knew what I wanted to say. “No, I cannot--but as a follower of Christ I think I should be able to.”
This is where the Gospel comes in for us. You see the Gospel is not just about “getting saved.” The Gospel is about what Jesus did so that our lives are transformed to be more and more like Jesus. And when it comes to loving our neighbor, I think we have to answer with the same honesty as Miroslav Volf, “No, I cannot--but as a follower of Christ I think I should be able to.”
The story of the Good Samaritan has been one of the most challenging stories for me, and one of the most defining biblical stories for how I want to interact with the world.
I have been with Christians who are more willing to tell you who they dislike and what they are against than they are willing to tell you who love.
We live in a world that describes Christians as prideful, arrogant, hypocritical, close-minded, bigoted, gay hating, and judgmental. I don’t believe we can change everyone’s mind, but I think they are picking up on something in church that is wrong...that we are more willing to tell people what to believe and how to behave..
But imagine if we began to really practice loving our neighbor as ourselves. If we loved those around us unconditionally and loved them in practical, selfless, sacrificial ways. The world would be a different place.
There is an old saying in the church, “Love the sinner and hate the sin.” The problem is that we can’t seem to do that. We hate the sin and then move into hating the person doing the sin. I think we should change that saying...we should make it simply say, “Love the sinner!” Stop worrying who the person is or what they have done. Our initial and continued response to those around should be to love them unconditionally and freely.
I want that to be what I am remembered for...loving people, giving them the benefit of the doubt, believing the best in them, accepting them and welcoming them. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people of sin and lead them into all truth...It is my job...it is our job to love them.