And Who Is My Neighbor

June 8, 2008 / No. 3414

Dear radio friends,

      Our meditation in the Word of God today is taken from a familiar parable spoken by Jesus Christ.  It is the parable commonly called the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  You may find it in your Bibles in Luke 10:25-37.

      There are many reasons why this parable is very relevant to us today.  We could look at it from the point of view of abortion.  Our country has made a decision that abortion is legal—all the way up to the birth of the child if the health of the mother is at stake.  And the health of the mother has been construed to mean any discomfort that would come from an unwanted pregnancy.

      While Scripture is clear that we may not take the law into our own hands, the Scripture is also clear that we must not become accustomed to abortion, desensitized, that we may not walk by on the other side, but that we are called to leave our witness against our country about this great evil of murder.  The neighbor that God places on our pathway includes the unborn neighbor.  Therefore, we must testify by reverencing God.

      We must also testify to the world of our stance on the Word of God against abortion by living pure sexual lives, by receiving our children as His gifts, and by speaking against this evil in our world.

      Or another reason why this parable is always relevant is that, as children of God, we need to grow in love to one another.  We always need more of the humble, loving, wise, mature, self-sacrificing heart of Jesus Christ.  We must always grow in that love of Christ that will humbly desire to reveal to each other the compassion and the mercy that we have received from our Lord.

      The Samaritan of whom Jesus speaks in His parable was a very different kind of person from the priest and the Levite.  He did not need to figure out who his neighbor was.  He did not ask:  “Should I be kind?  Does this person deserve my time?  Do I have the time?”  Grace had changed his heart, to think of the compassion that had been shown to him by God, a change that had been made by the blood of Jesus Christ, a change in his heart.

      So, I would like to consider today for a few moments that parable, which I trust is probably known well to all, the parable of the Good Samaritan.  And I would like to do so from the point of view of the question of the lawyer:  “And who is my neighbor?”

      Jesus spoke this parable of the Good Samaritan in response to the question of a lawyer who had asked in a self-justifying way, “And who is my neighbor?”  Many things can be said about this parable.  But there is one basic point in the parable.  Jesus reverses the question.  He tells the parable to switch the question.  The parable begins with the lawyer’s question:  “But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?”  And the parable ends with Jesus’ question:  “Which now of these three (priest, Levite, Samaritan),  thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?”  The Lord, in the parable, never answers the man’s question, but reverses the question from:  “What kind of people am I supposed to be neighborly to?” to:  “What kind of person am I?”  The lawyer was asking “What kind of person is my neighbor?  What kind of person is worthy of my love?”  Jesus reverses that question to:  “What kind of a person am I?  How do I show forth the love of God toward me?  How do I live as one who reflects the love of God?”  The emphasis is not on others—are they worthy?  What kind of persons are they?  But the emphasis switches to myself—what kind of person am I as a child of God?  How do I reflect the compassion that God shows to me?

      We read in Luke 10:25 that a certain lawyer had stood up and tempted Jesus saying, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  He was not sincere.  He did not really want to know.  He wanted to tempt, that is, test Jesus.  He wanted to trap Jesus in His words.  And Jesus did not like it.

      In effect, Jesus says to him, “You aren’t interested in eternal life.  But you want to get one over on Me.  You want to show your cleverness.  You want to try to trap Me in My worlds.”  So Jesus turns it back to him to show his insincerity (v. 26), “What saith the law?  How readest thou?”

      And he answered, “Thou shalt love…thy neighbor as thyself.”  He quotes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 and so on.  So he knew.  Jesus, now, has exposed him.

      In effect, Jesus has shown that this man was not sincere in his question.  And the lawyer knows that he has been exposed and that others are watching him and that his hypocrisy has been uncovered.  So, what does he do?  Does he admit this?  No!  But we read, “He, willing to justify himself (that is, he still wanted to make himself look good before others), said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?”  Yes, the law says I’m supposed to love my neighbor as myself.  But who is my neighbor?  In other words, he was saying to Jesus:  “It’s not so easy, Jesus.  Life is very complicated.  You say to me that I should go and do this, that I should simply go and love my neighbor?  Well, that’s a very complicated, a very involved question.  What kind of people fit in that category?  Who qualifies as my neighbor?  Every race?  Every color?  The unborn?  That person over there?  What kind of person is he?  What kind of people qualify for my love and compassion?”

      Jesus hates that question.  Jesus does not answer that question.  Jesus tells a parable to reverse that question from “Who is my neighbor?” to “What kind of a person am I?”

      He tells a story of a man who was abandoned and dying on the Jericho road, which was called the Bloody Way.  Between Jerusalem and Jericho a man fell among robbers and thieves, heartless and cruel muggers.  They stripped him of his raiment and wounded him and departed, leaving him half dead.  They beat him up, they worked him over, they left him to die, unable to help himself.

      The first two people who passed were a priest and then a Levite.  Both were religious men and instructed in the Word of God.  Both knew the Word and Law of God and openly confessed to be children of God.  Both knew the gospel of the grace of God.  Perhaps they were in a hurry to do their next religious duty.  And the wounded man, does he hear them coming and does he say, “At last, someone to help my need”?

      But we read, when they looked on him, they passed by on the other side.  They walked around him.  They put him out of their mind.  Perhaps it was because of who he was.   Perhaps it was because they were too busy.  Perhaps it was fear of the robbers.  Perhaps it would become too messy and too risky.  They were afraid.

      The third man who passed was a Samaritan.  He was not a Jew.  He was someone whom the Jews looked down upon because of who he was.  And yet, he was a man who had been brought nigh to Jesus by His blood, who was cleansed and renewed and given the hope of life eternal.  And we read that when he saw this man wounded and beaten upon the Jericho Road, he had compassion on him.  And that is the key phrase.  He had compassion on him.

      That is, he was a man who was conscious in his own soul of the compassion of God, of God’s undeserving, amazing, condescending pity for him as a miserable sinner to lift him out of sin and death.

      Here is a child of God who has known the compassion, the grace of God.  And now the emotion within him was that he must also, in thankfulness, reveal that compassion shown to him.  And he stops.  The fears, the busyness of his schedule, the messiness, the risky work that was before him in helping this man—all of this occurred to him as well as it occurred to the Levite and to the priest.  But these concerns did not rule in his heart.  We read, “And he went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host (innkeeper), and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.”

      Jesus has totally shifted the question. The focus has changed.  The question about what kind of man or person is my neighbor is not in the story anymore.  The focus is not on the man dying on the road.  But the focus is on the kind of people who walked by.  The first two had no compassion.  They were content with themselves.  Their time was too valuable.  They were too important.  They were too good.  The Samaritan knew by grace what God had done for him.  He was a different kind of person.

      So, at the end of the parable, the question is not:  Now, was the wounded man your neighbor?  That was not the question that Jesus left the lawyer.  But Jesus asked, “Which of these three thinkest thou was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?”  The lawyer responded, “The one who showed mercy.”  And Jesus said, “Go, and do thou likewise.”  In other words, the question is not, Who is my neighbor; whom should I help?  But the question is:  Who am I?  Am I a child of God?

      Jesus is saying that we must receive from God compassionate hearts.  This is the promise of His covenant in Ezekiel 36:26:   “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.”  So put yourself before the question that Jesus wants us to ask as we are confronted with the call to love our neighbor.  The question is not, Who qualify?  But the question is:  What kind of person am I?

      What kind of person am I?

      As recipients of God’s compassion, we are to show compassion one to another.  Now, if we do not have that compassion of God, if we do not have that experience of forgiveness, then we cannot do that.  It is self-righteousness and it is pride to think that we have that compassion of ourselves.  It is only grace that gives that to us.  It is only grace that causes you to fall down, giving you to know the kind of sinner you are:  selfish, self-loving, self-serving.  Only then can you know the compassion and grace of God.

      The Levite and the priest did not know the gospel of God’s compassion and grace.  Why?  Was it because they could not, theologically, give you a definition of what God’s grace and what God’s compassion were?  No, they could give you a very fine definition of it.  But they did not know it personally, because they were self-righteous.  And self-righteousness cannot be compassionate.  Self-righteousness must treat people hard, as hard as they treat themselves.

      A profound dynamic is seen here in the priest and in the Levite and in the Samaritan.  One cannot forgive unless he is forgiven.  One cannot reveal compassion unless he knows the compassion of God personally and daily.  One cannot know the compassion of God unless he knows the truth about himself as a desperate sinner.

      There are deep psychological, spiritual truths here.  If my soul is in darkness, if self-righteousness and pride and self-absorption rule over my heart, then I cannot express the compassion of God.  I must first know myself to be a sinner.  I must know His compassion.  And then there must be the desire to show thankfulness by revealing the compassion shown to me.

      Do you beat your wife?  Are you hard on your kids?  You cannot forgive, it keeps coming back to you, it sticks?

      Do you know the compassion of God?  Do you really know the kind of person you are?  Do you know yourself as the despicable, proud, ugly sinner that you are?  And that God has shown compassion to you?  Why can you not forgive?  Why are you so angry, so hard, and so harsh against your children and your wife?

      The Samaritan had tasted of God’s grace.  The Levite and the priest, though theologically they were experts about God’s grace, yet pride sat enthroned in their hearts.

      The Lord’s point is that the Samaritan, the child of God, having received compassion, desired to express that compassion.  Look at the particulars that Jesus put in this parable about this man.  The concrete, hands-on, messy compassion that he showed.  That is a huge part of the parable.  Jesus belabors the point to drive something home about the person who follows him.

      We read that he went and he bound up the wounds.  He got blood on his shirt and on his hands.  The wounded man was helpless.  The Samaritan poured in wine and oil.  He walked so that the man could ride upon his beast.  He brought him to an inn.  He stayed with him through the night.  He could have taken off.  He could have said, “Well, I’ve done my part.”  But then he digs into his own pocket and he leaves money behind for continued help and care.  And he says that if there are more expenses, he will be back to pay.

      Compassion is a self-forgetting, self-sacrificing kindness of heart that cares not what trouble is entailed.  Freely ye have received, says Jesus, freely give.  Out of an awareness of what God has done for him, that God had dried all his tears and secured his feet from falling, he desired to live in thankfulness before God.  He gave up much time.  He loved in very deed and truth.  In a world then and now that was all about Me, My time, My self, My joy, My happiness, don’t inconvenience Me—this man showed compassion.

      You say, that is amazing.  Well, no, it is not.  Not when you see the compassion of Jesus Christ for sinners, for the sinners that God gave Him.

      What kind of person are you?

      Now, you must not confuse this to mean that we live as an unbelieving and ungodly person.  But, the question is, what characterizes your life?  Does the world see in you simple decency, but at the same time do they see that you live for the same things that the world lives for?  Do you live for what they live for—fashion, self, things, pleasures?  Do they hear the good word of Jesus Christ from your lips?  Do they see the light of the gospel shining in your walk of life?  Then we walk in this world, seeking to reveal the grace of God shown to us.  Then, when we see a wounded sinner ready to die eternally, we seek for an opportunity to speak, to pour in the oil and the wine of God’s Word.  We desire to bring the Word of humble witness, perhaps of firm rebuke.  We get involved.  We say something.

      The life of those who are in Christ, says the Lord, will be very different from the world.  They are a very different kind of people.  They are not ruled by self, but they are ruled by Christ.  They desire to show forth the compassion of the Lord.  Their life is rooted in a profound understanding of what Christ has done for them.

      Jesus says, “Go and do thou likewise.”  Not, do and live, but, having received grace, now go and do.  Do thou likewise.  Act on your knowledge.  Put to use what Christ has shown you.  Do not say, “Glory, hallelujah!  I know,I’m on the way.  I’m saved and it doesn’t matter how I live.”  Then you blaspheme God.

      No, grace must be reflected, grace must be displayed.  Go and do thou likewise means that Jesus expects that as we have received of Him, so also we will do.  The standard of our life is not, What do other people do?  The standard of our life is not, What do other people deserve?  The standard of our life is not, What kind of people are they?  But the issue before us in our life is:  What did God do for me?  What, now, in this situation, will reflect what God has done for me?

      Jesus says that the basis of the Christian conduct is always:  As you have received mercy, so do.  Having received compassion, go and do likewise.

      What kind of a person are you?  I Peter 2:9, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood…a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”   We have received compassion.  We have been set free from our helpless state, ravaged by our sins, naked and exposed.  The Lord of mere grace has taken compassion upon us and healed us.  Now this divine grace moves within us.  We should do so also to those who are placed on our way by God, to the glory of His name.

      May God bless this Word to your heart and may the Spirit of God dwell richly in you.

Let us pray.

      Father, we thank Thee for Thy holy Word.  And we pray for its blessing upon us in this day.  May we hear the words of Jesus and, by His grace, go and do likewise.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.