Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, October 18, 2019
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Love Your Neighbor (2)

Luke 10:25-37

 I’ve often thought that this is probably Jesus’ best known parable.  And if I’m right about that, then it’s a pretty good choice.  If what people know of Jesus’ teachings is to demonstrate love for neighbor, that’s a good start.  Now it’s not all there is to the story, of course.  I think some people reduce Jesus to nothing more than “Love your neighbor,” but it’s a really good start.  

 “What must I do to be saved,” the scribe, the expert in the religious law asks.  In the Hebrew understanding, salvation is based on doing what God requires.  Jesus returns the question to him, “What did Moses say?  How do you read it?”

 And he answers with the two commands that Jesus called the most important, which come from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18:  Love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself.  And I would add that we can’t separate these two from each other.  We love God by loving those who are created in his image.  And we cannot truly love God if we don’t love those made in his image and those whom he loves dearly.  

 “But the scribe wanted to justify his actions.”  I’ve heard it said the need to justify oneself is one of the strongest human needs.  We need to be in the right.  If someone points out how we are in the wrong, we always have an explanation for why we are not.  “It’s not my fault.  You misunderstood.  I have a good reason to explain it.  Well, so-and-so did much worse than I ever did.”  And so on.  It’s never just, “Yeah, I screwed up.”  

 Now this scribe, this expert in the Law of God, he would certainly never fail to love God.  But people, well, they can be a lot harder to love.  “And just who is my neighbor?”  

 So Jesus tells the story.  A man is going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.  The road went through Jeshimmon, the Judean wilderness, a desolate region between the Judean Highlands and the Jordan River Valley.  It was as a dangerous road, a hideout for highway robbers.  Most people traveled in caravans or groups wherever they went, so, really not a good choice to go this way alone.  But it’s Jesus’ story, not mine.  And not surprisingly, he is waylaid by robbers.  He is beaten and left for dead.  

Three people pass by.  The first two are a priest and a Levite, religious elites, professionals.  Surely, of all people, they would stop to help.  But of course, you know,

they don’t.  The priest just walks by on the other side of the road.  “Not my problem.  You got yourself into that mess; you can get yourself out.”  The Levite treats it as a curiosity. He goes over to check the guy out.  Maybe he prays over him while he’s there.  But in any case, he does nothing.  Without action, there is no love.  

Of all people, it’s the Samaritan who acts.  And of course, Jesus meant for this to be a shocking moment in the story.  Jews and Samaritans in the first century did not like each other.  There was a long and ugly history between the two.  It started all the way back when King Solomon died and the kingdom split in two.  The northern kingdom had its capital in Samaria.  The two kingdoms were frequently enemies over the ten centuries.  When the Assyrians defeated the northern kingdom, they took many of its people away into captivity and moved in their own people.  And the Samaritans “lost their racial purity” in the eyes of the Jews.  Then the southern kingdom was taken into exile.  When they returned, they rejected the Samaritans as no longer true children of Abraham.  The Samaritans responded by trying to stop them from rebuilding Jerusalem.  After the Jews regained their independence in the 2nd century BC, they attacked and conquered Samaria, burning the Samaritan temple to the ground.  These two groups did not like each other.

But regardless of feelings, the Samaritan acted.  He helped the man.  Was it risky?  Yes.  He could have been the next victim, I suppose.  Was it costly?  Obviously.  He had to pay for the man’s lodging and care.  Love is always risky and costly.  But God calls us to love our neighbor and do good for them.  

We are responsible for our own conduct.  We talked about that last week when we studied Galatians chapter 6.  And one of our responsibilities is to help others in their time of need.  It’s not our fault, usually, that they got in trouble.  But it is our responsibility to help them out of trouble.  

We usually have a good reason not to help.  I’m sure they priest and Levite had good reasons not to help.  But the truth is usually just that we don’t love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.  That’s the truth.  And there’s nothing easy or comfortable about the truth.  

God commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  And that requires action, usually risky and costly action.  But that’s the truth of what God requires of us.  

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