A Sermon on Luke 10:25-37

Last week, we started our Texts from Jesus sermon series, and imagined how Jesus would communicate with us today was he to walk in our times instead of the 1st century. No one gathers in town square for a big debate or question and answer session, so today Jesus might text, or he might answer lawyers questions on a reddit AMA.

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A young man innocently asks Jesus how to get eternal life. Jesus answers back “what does the law say?” He answers “to love god and love neighbor?” Jesus says you got it. the reply: “but, who is my neighbor?”

As a child, I could easily answer the question “who is my neighbor?” I watched PBS everyday, except when they had a pledge drive, and every day Mister Rogers asked me in song: “Wont you be my neighbor?” Mister Rogers is my neighbor. Growing up helped me realize the question is more difficult, but he taught me that often the question has a simple answer that cuts through all of our difficulty.

The parable of the good Samaritan is one that most of us and are pretty familiar with. Along with the parable of the prodigal son, they are two of the passages of the bible that even non-religious folk are familiar with.

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho is a dangerous one. So dangerous that no sane person would travel alone along the road. 18 miles full of easy places to hide, hills and difficult terrain. Bandits along this road turned an easy profit waiting for foolish travelers to be vulnerable.

A man walking down this road was not surprisingly robbed, stripped, beat, and left half-dead.

A priest walks by, no response.
A levite walks by, no response.
A Samaritan walks by and cares for the man. Bandaged for the man, took for to an inn, and paid for his extended care.

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All of this is Jesus’ answer to the simple question: Who is my neighbor? Think about this: Jesus could have just answered the question right? Jesus, who is my neighbor? Well, good question, your neighbor is the Samaritans. Or he could tell them what we tell our kids: our neighbor is everyone.

But he didn’t. He answered them with this bizarre story, and I think Jesus did so for a reason.

Jesus’ listeners were members of the 1st century, Jewish members. Jesus here is riffing on a fairly common joke structure of the day. Much like our jokes about a rabbi, a priest and a minister, stories were frequently told about a priest, a levite, and an Israelite. Jesus is a bad joke teller. His listeners would have been surprised when a Samaritan was in his parable, not just because Samaritans were despised, but because they took the standard role of the Israelite in the story.

They were expecting the story to glorify the lay person, the random Israelite over the ordained elite. There was no place for the regular listener to plug in to the story. All good stories need a pretty normal, standard person for the reader or listener to identify with. All the popular teen books of the last decade feature this.

Where was the listener to identify? What is Jesus saying and where is the Israelite? Lets return to that beaten man in the ditch. He is stripped naked, and left for dead. The clothes and possessions of a person identify not only what class they belong to, but in ancient Israel they identify where that person is from, etc. This man has had his very identity ripped from him. This man could have been an Israelite or anyone else.

Usually and easily we read this parable, as containing the basic instructions to care for others, with the added surprising (or embarrassing) caveat that a Samaritan got it right and the Israelite priest got it wrong. Yet, from another lens, Jesus is inviting to see ourselves in the ditch. You are in the ditch, and a Samaritan stretches out his hand.

Every people group throughout time has pointed to some other group or person to place all their blame, all their problems and hate towards. Ancient jews blamed Samaritans and pagans, Christians blamed jews, the English blamed the French, americans blamed the English, and on and on. I don’t know who we struggle with, who we blame, who we hate today, maybe it’s a group of people or a class of people in our own towns, maybe its people of another faith, another country, another race. For some, it’s a simple as someone being a democrat or a republican.

This is who a Samaritan is for Jesus’ audience. Someone who makes your blood boil. YOU are in the ditch, and a Samaritan is the only one who will reach out his hand. Are we able to take that hand? It’s easy being a neighbor when we have the power, when it is our charity that is being counted upon, but this story is deeper than asking us to cross over to the other side of the road and be nice, Jesus is answering a hard question and he gives a hard answer.

Who is my neighbor? It’s the person I hate, the person I despise, the person I would spit at, and he’s reaching out his hand to me, am I willing to accept? I know humanity and history to know that grabbing the offer of help that though completely logical, time and time again people have chosen to just die in the ditch, than give the enemy the pleasure of being neighborly.

That is just when its hard. How often we fail at being neighbors when its easy. How many of us know our neighbors that live next door, much less all of those in the neighborhood. How can we spread the love of Christ, when we don’t know our neighbors well enough to simply say “Hi” to them?

In her book, Lillian Daniel shares stories about her eccentric grandmother interacting with her neighbors and gives an account of a very long feud concerning her dog Amos.  In reflecting, she realized that she never knew the names of any of the neighbors, that her grandmother had always used the phrase “they.”  Then Lillan writes a line I find to be profound: Until ‘they’ becomes ‘we,’ there is no body of Christ.[1]

Jesus gave us two rules to focus on: Love God and love others. Even in doing something really nice and wonderful for others, we can forget to treat others like they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, even charity doesn’t always build community.

Any witnessing, giving, praising, worshiping, mission work, any “churching” at all should be in the interest of building relationships.. The church exists to build a community where we can live into that call. After all, that is exactly what Jesus did. God became flesh, to live and walk among us. Long distance conference calls weren’t working anymore, he had to make a personal visit.

The message translates John 1:14 this way: “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” If we are the church, if we are the holy-spirit infused body of Christ, if Christ really calls us to carry out his mission on earth, then we have to start looking at mission the same way he looked at his mission with us: Incarnation. We have to move into the neighborhood.

When Jesus lived in the neighborhood he took every opportunity to remind us that insider/outsider paradigms are not going to work. If the Kingdom of God is anything, it is a place where adjectives are no longer an excuse to sort, classify, dissect, separate, gerrymander and judge. Adjectives like Israelite, Samaritan, Male, Female, Slave, Free.

The question is not “how do I be a good neighbor?” Easy question, easy answer, hard implantation. But the question is “who is my neighbor?” which means facing the truth that a Samaritan may come to our rescue. We may not have all the power, our church, might not have the power to save ourselves, you and I may have to reach out. Jesus asks “are you willing to learn, are you willing to be redeemed through the example of those who make your blood boil, are we capable of accepting help? Of laying down our own saviour complexes and admitting we are just like everyone else. Are we willing to take their hand?

Creating relationships with others is so important. It’s important because loving people unconditionally, becoming friends is quite simply Christlike.

I returned last week from a 2 week youth camp called Texas Youth Academy. For 2 weeks, high school juniors and seniors voluntarily come to the Southwestern University to hear seminary level lectures from professors from around the nation, mission projects, daily worship, art projects and daily small groups. It’s a truly amazing experience. We throw teenagers into the deep end of the baptismal pool, and give them a crash course on loving Jesus.

On Sunday, we took a trip to Austin for what is known as Church Under the Bridge. It’s a church service that takes up the large parking lots by 6th street under the freeway. The homeless of Austin are treated to breakfast and a worship service and fellowship. We came there as a group of 32 youth not to serve food or for any purpose at all other than to talk to the people there. The idea was to teach them the value of simply being in conversation and relationships with people they might not normally talk to.

I was skeptical, simply because at 16 I don’t know if I would have had the courage to do so. But I was blown away at those kids, they immediately engage any and all people there. Getting into deep conversations, hearing stories, and few of them even played music there. At TYA we felt this was mission. It was mission work because the youth were interacting with people many ignore, but more importantly they were open and honest enough with them for them to be able to receive something back from them. The stories that brought the youth to tears were not about anything they were able to give, but insights about their own faith, or the joy of seeing someone with no physical wealth rejoice in their wealth with God.

It truly touched my heart to see kids really get that the kingdom of God is not just about helping people, but its about being in relationship with others, being an authentic community together. We learned a lot about community living in close quarters for 2 weeks.

“Be a neighbor.” Jesus texts to us. Our neighbors are all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our neighbors are all of those people who we care about, love, and all of those we are called to love. Our neighbor is the despised one, the hated one picking us up and putting us on his donkey. Being a neighbor is only complete when we allow others, all of the others, to act like a neighbor towards us.

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The lawyer heard all these things and Jesus asked which of the 3 were a neighbor? And the lawyer could not even muster up the strength to say the Samaritan, so he said the “one who showed mercy.” Jesus was pushing him to re-imagine the world, a world where God reigns and insider/outsider language holds no weight. This is a place where we are called to be merciful and receive the mercy of God. Go and do likewise.

[1] Lillian Daniel, When “Spiritual But Not Religious” is Not Enough (Nashville: Jericho Books, 2012), 59.