Am I my brother's keeper, and if yes, how?
I’d like to begin the sermon today with a true story that came out of the Cincinnati Enquire about a little over a year ago.
“He is on my bus only occasionally, a worn man in crumpled clothing with disheveled hair. His life looks different from the rest of ours. We are mostly middle income. His face is etched with exhaustion and he carries virtually no belongings. We drive ourselves to the parking lot. He appears along a busy road seemingly out of nowhere. We sometimes wonder where he slept the night before. A few weeks ago he boarded the bus, took one of the side facing front seats and as he typically does, looked down at the floor. A few stops later a young woman boarded, a regular rider who speaks good but not native English. She swipes her bus pass only to find the machine would not accept it. The driver told her she would have to deposit the $2.25 fare. I just bought this card she said, I paid the money. The driver said she could take the card back to the sales office and explain the problem. In the meantime she would have to pay the fare for today. The woman became distressed and didn’t understand why she would have to pay the fare. The rest of us just watched wondering how the problem would be solved. Suddenly the male passenger rose from his seat, dropped a jingle of coins into the fare box and sat back down, his eyes returning to the floor. His act was so unobtrusive that the distressed passenger didn’t even realize what had happened. He continued to plead her case. “You’re good”, the bus driver finally said quietly, holding up a palm to one, he paid for you. The bus driver reiterated and pulled away from the curb. A hush fell over the bus. The rest of us had watched the woman’s discomfort, he felt it. We wondered absently how the dilemma would be resolved. He resolved it. We, lawyers, journalists, business people were headed downtown to help fix the world. He fixed her world. We could have paid the $2.25 and never missed it. It’s easy to imagine that was his fare home. You never know when you’ll be in the presence of greatness or of grace. To the world my fellow passenger looked like a man in need of solutions. I had looked at him and saw only what he lacked. By the time he stepped off the bus that morning, it was obvious that he was a richer man then the rest of us. He had enough to open his eyes and his heart to a stranger, enough to give of what he had and trust life for the rest. I haven’t seen him since that day. Some people believe angels occasionally drop down and move among us. All I know is that I have a new respect for the simple act of kindness. It keeps the bus rolling, it speeds us along the way.”
At some time in everyone’s life, in their own way, in their own place, everyone is faced with trying to discover or decide upon life’s big questions. Who am I? Does God exist? If God created me then why did He? Will the world come to an end? Is there life after death? What do I need to know from the Bible? What should we or what should I do with my life and since we don’t find ourselves alone on this planet, just like the author of this article alluded to, we are faced with another life question?. Am I my brother’s keeper and if yes, how?
We all know where that comes from, Genesis chapter 4. We’re not going to turn to that, but one of the many poignant questions in the Bible, how are we or am I my brother’s keeper?
Most people have heard of the parable of the Good Samaritan and even if they’re not necessarily Bible literate, they can probably recite the most obvious lesson from it and I dare say if I asked anybody here in this audience what the main lesson is from the Good Samaritan you could all share it, in fact probably all our kids could do so as well. In fact I’m sure they could, they’ve probably covered it at one time or another, either at home or in Sabbath school classes. There are whole organizations dedicating to practice this moral; Salvation Army, Red Cross, Good Will, United Way, etc. We know there are Good Samaritan laws also in some states, perhaps most states where people who are trying to help are protected from frivolous law suits afterwards. How many of us though are aware of the full setting in context of this story?
Why did Christ pick the characters that He did in the parable of the Good Samaritan? Why did He tell the story in the first place? What was the impetus or the reason for this story? Is it just a nice story about doing good to others or are there other lessons that we need to learn from this parable? What questions in specific was Christ answering when He even told this particular parable? So as Paul Harvey would have said, you’ve heard the tale, now here’s the rest of the story. Nine out of ten that this is the only rest of the story about the Good Samaritan, so please don’t misquote me on that, but I would like to take a look at the story of the Good Samaritan and understand a little bit more about it than perhaps just the obvious lesson. So that’s what we plan to do today.
Now, just a quick review of parables. Parables are not only illustrations of a point. They’re not simply the Bible’s version of Aesop’s’ fables or of Hans Christian Anderson’s stories, although of course most of these do carry very important lessons as well. The parables are powerful events that are meant to change us. They’re powerful stories that were meant to change peoples ways of thinking which Christ told them. They were meant to turn lives upside down. In some ways Christ’s parables should shake us up and move us down a new path or confirm the path that we are on. We should find ourselves inside the parables and they should transform us. It is critical to understand the setting that Christ creates within a parable in order to understand its meaning. He didn’t for instance, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, we’re going to see, He didn’t necessarily pick the characters willy nilly. Don’t ask me about the phrase, the etymology of that phrase, it just sounded good at the moment, but He just didn’t pick them at random. See, that’s a better phrase.
Christ’s parables were usually a shock to people. The trouble is that we know them and they don’t often surprise us because we’re well familiar with them. We can probably quote a good number of parables almost word for word from the New Testament. It’s like listening to a good story that you have already heard, you know the ending, you know it makes a good point, you feel good afterwards. Well we have to discover in some sense that a sense of surprise, kind of put ourselves in the shoes of the people of that time. The parable of the Good Samaritan was probably bordering on being scandalous for those who first heard it. People probably couldn’t even believe their ears when Christ told it. So in some ways we need to rediscover that surprise or that wake-up call that Christ intended.
So let us go to the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke chapter 10 and we are going to turn to a few other scriptures, but obviously we’re going to spend most of our time here so you may want to go ahead and put a bookmark in place. We’ll begin in verse 25 and again as in every passage in the Bible or any Bible study we may do, the context is crucial. So again, what was the reason that Christ even told the story to begin with? So let’s read a little of the context.
Luke 10:25 Luke 10:25And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
American King James Version× And behold a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Verse 26: He said to Him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” (Or what is your understanding of it?)
Verse 27: So he answered and said, “You shall love your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.”
Verse 28: And Christ said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”
So that’s our setting. Now we see immediately that the motivation of the lawyer wasn’t necessarily right.
Spot on: Luke was a careful historian, what he wrote down is accurate and is also precise. We see he was wanting to test Christ, to try to put Him on the spot. Now of course lawyers would have been known and would have known the finer details of the moral and religious law, of what was required. He calls Christ teacher and yet at the same time he was testing Christ as we see in the very first verse. So being a lawyer he wanted to know what were the requirements? What were the requirements of the law? Now that’s not necessarily a bad question. Now please notice though that although the lawyer was wanting to tempt Christ (you see this at the very beginning) he did ask a life question. He asked a very important life question and perhaps the most important; what must I do to inherit eternal life? Now this is no trivial question of course, this is not just a passing question. This is a life question, this is a very important question. Although of course the way the lawyer represented it, it was for a less than a serious purpose. Maybe the purpose was serious to him, but again his purpose was to test Christ or to tempt Him, to put Him on the spot, put Him in a bad light. Christ though was eventually going to address both questions. He was going to address the lawyer’s impetus for asking the question, but He’s also going to address the question itself on its face value.
So Christ asked: “Well what does the law say and how do you understand what the law says?” So Christ asked back to him and of course the answer that the lawyer gave, he didn’t give a complete listing of the law, he didn’t start with the first book of Moses and go to the second book of Moses, he gave a summary and Christ verified and said: “Yes that is correct, you’re right.” Now if you take a look at Deuteronomy 6 in verse 5 (we will not go there) but that’s where it talks about you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and might. Leviticus 19 in verse 18, it talks about loving your neighbor as yourself. So those were not first, let us say, didn’t first come out in the New Testament of course, they were actually what God had communicated to Israel. So these are things that we’re to do and the lawyer knew that.
Now what’s interesting and we’re going to see later, the lawyer probably meant to quote these verses as a summary of the law and that was fine, that was good, that was right. We’re going to see later though that Christ meant it in the spirit of the law which is something a little bit different. Let’s go to Hebrews chapter 8, verse 10. I forgot to mention greetings to all those who are also on the webcast. I hope you’re all having a very fine Sabbath.
Hebrews 8:10 Hebrews 8:10For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, said the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:
American King James Version× “ For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days,” says the Lord, “I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be My people.”
This is what God intends for us. Not that the laws are like laws we see in the law libraries or on the books somewhere, in a lawyers office or the police station where it’s just a nice listing, but Christ means it to be that this is how we function, this is how we live, this is our motivation in life, not just simply we’re keeping a list. Let’s go to Matthew chapter 22. Begin in verse 37.
Matthew 22:37 Matthew 22:37Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
American King James Version× Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.
Verse 38: This is the first and great commandment.
Verse 39: And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Verse 40: On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
So all scripture involves principles and applications of these main laws. You cannot love God and hate your neighbor. You cannot love neighbor and hate God. If you tried to love God and hate your neighbor, you’re actually disobeying God because God says love your neighbor. The apostle John calls this hypocritical and of course we cannot expect or do not have the capacity to properly love our neighbor without having God as our center, without being God-focused first and then only are we in a position to properly love our neighbor.
So, going back to Luke chapter 10, verse 28:
Luke 10:28 Luke 10:28And he said to him, You have answered right: this do, and you shall live.
American King James Version× And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”
You have the right information, you have answered correctly. I don’t know if Christ was tempted to say surprise, surprise, but the lawyer did answer correctly. Christ said commit yourself to it and you will live, He said, do it.
So as we get it here into the parable of the Good Samaritan, we’re going to see it is not simply a nice, feel good, read it by the fire story. It is not just a milk of the word story. It is about two of life’s great questions, eternal life and being our brother’s keeper. So let’s read verse 29. Here is let’s say the reason or here is the question that Christ is going to answer with the parable of the Good Samaritan or one of the main questions He’s going to answer in verse 29 or like I said the impetus, the reason why He gets into the story in the first place.
Verse 29: But he (The lawyer) wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
So he was trying to of course, demonstrate that he was already righteous, that he was just, that he was innocent of doing anything wrong and perhaps maybe he wanted to demonstrate that he did not need Jesus Christ as a teacher. Now he asked the question, who is my neighbor? Notice he did not ask how I should do this? So we have to ask ourselves, why was this question being asked? He asked the question, well who is my neighbor? Well, the Jews were known and well known for trying to establish basically a check list mentality to obeying the law and by extension, serving God. They had very strict rules about what not to do, but they also had rules that limited their obligations under the law. So trying to fit serving God, basically in other words, the lawyer was trying to fit serving God into his own interpretations, into his own limited box or life style.
Now maybe the lawyer wanted to point out, well the law wasn’t specific enough. You know it says, love your neighbor, but if I don’t know who my neighbor is, how can I be expected to love them? Maybe he was doing this because he did not know to whom to perform this command. Maybe he wanted Christ to give him an answer to which he could say, I’ve done that, I’ve done that, what a good person I am. Just as we have the example of Christ when the Pharisee goes off to pray and he says, you know I fast twice a week and I give tithes of all I possess and thank you God that I am not as bad as other people. That was basically the prayer that he gave. Maybe that’s what the lawyer wanted to be able to do, to say, I’ve done that, I’ve done that and maybe in some ways to force Christ to say, well you’re going to have eternal life.
The Jews in general, generally thought only of other Jews as being neighbors. In fact they even had interpretations constituted being a neighbor. The word of course literally means somebody in close proximity to you. So if you say, you know, your neighbors, you generally think of people within close proximity. The closer they are the more obligation the person would have towards that person. If they lived right next door, you would have more obligations towards that person than somebody who lived a mile away. In fact if someone lived a mile away you might not have even considered a neighbor under that definition. So probably the lawyers thinking, well some people are so remote that in fact they’re not neighbors at all and I don’t owe them anything. There’s no reason to show love to them because technically speaking, they’re not my neighbor. Of course in Jewish society at the time, this would have been true above all else towards the Samaritans. The Jews really did feel that they owed nothing towards the Samaritans. In fact they shouldn’t even be associated with them.
So let’s continue on in verse 30. Again he’s wanting to justify himself and let’s begin in verse 30 and read through verse 33.
Verse 30: Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him and departed leaving him half dead.
Verse 31: Now by chance a certain priest came down that road and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.
Verse 32: Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked and passed by on the other side.
Verse 33: But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was and when he saw him he had compassion on him.”
Now, Christ in my sincere opinion did not simply use four anonymous characters in this story and He did it for a reason. The identity of all four are important in my opinion for the lessons that He was trying to share. Obviously the priest and Levite represent the religious elite and you can well imagine when Christ was telling the story they hear the two bad guys in the story are the religious elite of the time, the priest and the Levites. Of course Christ did not hesitate when needed, to kind of show them where they needed to go. The priest of course performed the sacrifices and other religious rituals. The Levites took care of the temple and served people religiously although not through the rituals.
In the story we read at the beginning of the sermon the author pointed out that here the business people, the lawyers, the leaders of society should have been the one to step up and help this lady and yet they didn’t. It was somebody else who maybe couldn’t afford to do so, but he was the one who stepped up. It’s going to be very similar here, or is similar here, to the story of the Good Samaritan.
So anyway, they would have been well educated, but unfortunately as we see in the gospels, they were characteristically arrogant, hypocritical in a lot of cases and they tended to treat people beneath themselves again as we see time and time again throughout the gospels. Of course that would have been particularly the case with the Samaritans. That’s why this story would have been such a great shock to the listeners at the time. To us it’s not a great shock. Now maybe it would be a great shock if I substituted a few other characters in there in place of the priest and the Levite. What if I said a minister went down and saw the person and went on the other side? After him a deacon came, also saw the person and went on the other side? Then in place of the Samaritan, maybe somebody Baptist, a Muslim, somebody who’s a Buddhist, somebody who does not know religion at all or has no religious beliefs. An atheist or agnostic came and actually helped the person. If I said it like that, gave the parable a little more shock value to us. That’s the type of shock value you would have had there at the time and of course it would have made the Pharisees and the lawyer at the time a little upset I’m sure.
So the Samaritans were looked down upon. They had some claims to Judaism but they were not pure Jews. They were not pure Jews either genetically or religiously. They had some practices that would have stemmed from Jewish belief and other practices that would have stemmed from pagan beliefs. Also, in terms of their genealogy, would have been the same way. But we see here, this is kind of characteristic of Christ because He tends to, as the scripture says, those who are proud he brings down and those who are down He brings up. That’s what’s happening here. But I don’t think Christ was exaggerating His portrayal of the priest and the Levite. Perhaps they were actually having a little theological debate in their mind desperately trying to find some biblical reason why they didn’t have to help this guy who was lying along the road. Sure enough after years of study they managed to find something to absolve themselves of any responsibility.
Now, what do we know about the person who fell among thieves? What do we know about that person? Absolutely nothing. Not a thing. What would the priest, Levite and the Samaritan have known about the man? Absolutely nothing. No clothes to identify him. We see that already in the story. He was beaten so bad he looked dead. All his valuables would have been missing. His cards, as we saw in the sermonette, all his credit cards would have been gone. Any identification at all would have been gone and he couldn’t have been identified by his clothing, he had no clothing left. The man probably could not talk, if he was left half dead, you could probably get some moans out of him and that was about it. We know absolutely nothing about this individual. For the priest and the Levite, this was a no one. This was a no one. For Christ this was everyone and anyone. A big difference in that prospective. In literature this is every man, representing humanity. Remember the lawyer had asked: “Who is my neighbor?” To whom am I obligated, required to show love? Remember that was one of his big questions. Christ just answered that question with a no identity person. In other words Christ answered the question by saying, anyone and everyone in need. There is no way you can get out of that obligation. So Christ is using extreme examples here to demonstrate His point. He picked a well educated religious person to represent the bad behavior and the Samaritan, the least knowledgeable person, to represent the model behavior. Now of course the expected progression would have been the other way around. A story like this told in Jewish society of the time would have shown the priest to be the good guy and the hero that comes charging in on a white horse and saves the guy from certain death and that type of thing, but that’s not what it was.
A quick word about the geography. The road down from Jerusalem to Jericho was through very rocky and uninhabited wilderness. It was notorious for its attacks by robbers, so notorious some references its called the bloody way, just because the amount of attacks that it had. It was about 15 miles long, very hot, very dry, it was a rough journey, you certainly did not want to linger there, you wanted to get in and get out as fast as you could. So it was a dangerous journey. Let’s go back to verses 31 and 32 for a moment and we see here again the Levite and the priest pass along the side. Why might the priest and Levite have done that? Why wouldn’t they have stopped and help that individual? Well, maybe the priest didn’t actually see it happen, probably didn’t see it happen, probably neither of them saw it happen. He moves to the other side. How could he be sure the wounded man is a neighbor since he can’t be identified? How do I know he lives on my block? I can’t tell who he is. If the person lying there is a non Jew, the priest could have risked defilement, especially if the person were actually dead he would have risked even greater defilement when touching the dead body. If he defiles himself he cannot collect and distribute the tithes. Of course they were sometimes paid in animals but not exclusively. His family and servants would suffer the consequences with him. Priests were supposed to be ritually clean and exemplified the law. He would have had immediate shame and embarrassment suffered because of touching a dead body or touching somebody who was not a Jew in that case. He would have had a complete quite lengthy ritual purification that would have lasted at least a couple weeks. So he was in a predicament. In fact he couldn’t even have approached closer than 4 cubic’s to a dead man without being defiled and of course he couldn’t have gotten close enough to tell if he was a dead man or not. So, the best course of action was he just simply moved along the way, he simply walked on past. Now it says here that they saw him so they were aware, the priest and Levite were aware of this individual, no questions about it, but that’s all there was, that’s all they were was aware, nothing more. Let’s take a look at the response of the Samaritan, verses 33 through 35.
Verse 33: “ But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
Verse 34: and went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn and took care of him.
Verse 35: On the next day when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper and said to him, ‘Take care of him and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ “
So he had compassion. The word compassion here in the Greek means literally you ache in your stomach. It’s like when you hear some bad news, you just get a pit in your stomach and of course it doesn’t take much these days to hear about bad news and tragedy that happens to people, unfortunately. You know what I’m talking about. You physically hurt as well as emotionally hurt and spiritually hurt. You cannot help but hurt or feel for the person. Just like the person on the bus, he actually had compassion on the lady, he hurt for her. It was an embarrassing situation, she maybe didn’t have cash on hand, she needed to get to work, he felt that compassion.
How did the Good Samaritan love God with all of his heart, mind, soul and strength? How did he love his neighbor as himself? Well he saw the need and took pity indicating that his heart was involved. It wasn’t just a mental thing for him, it wasn’t doing calculations to say, is this person my neighbor, is this person not my neighbor ? Do I recognize him, is he in my neighborhood, what are my obligations, how little can I spend? That wasn’t what he felt. His heart was involved. He was sincerely concerned and just did not try and fulfill his responsibility at the minimum level. He had a high quality of service, he spared no expense, he did not simply pour on water, but it says he poured on oil and wine which of course are expensive items, they’re expensive items today and they were expensive items even back then. Of course wine and oil were used as part of the temple ritual as well, so there’s some spiritual symbolism here going on that what was really the service to God. Was it just the temple rituals or in this case helping the fellow man? He made sure to complete the job, meeting all the man’s needs, not just some of them. He wasn’t so calculating as to limit his service to a certain amount for he said, I’ll even repay and I’ll pay the extra expenses that may occur because of what the inn keeper may have to give this man. He didn’t simply pass along the responsibility to the inn keeper. He said please take care of him, but he said I will take care of the expenses. No, he stayed with him and he took care of it in that way.
Now I can well imagine that the compassion of the Samaritan upset his plans. He prepared himself for this journey obviously. There weren’t necessarily just hotels to bunk up in, every 5 miles along this dangerous route. So he had to take with him food, drink and money. He probably had a certain purpose for those things. Two denarii was a lot of money, it was enough for 3 weeks lodging. Imagine putting somebody up in a hotel today for 3 weeks and the cost that you would incur. It would be a rather large cost. He gives even what he doesn’t have. Probably the money he hoped to earn in Jericho and he said he’d return after his business in Jericho. Please turn with me to James chapter 2, verses 13 through 17.
James 2:13 James 2:13For he shall have judgment without mercy, that has showed no mercy; and mercy rejoices against judgment.
American King James Version× For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Let’s just think about that in the context of the lawyer in this parable as well or in this story as well as the Good Samaritan.
Verse 14: What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?
Verse 15: If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,
Verse 16: and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” (Or we say to them, I’ll pray for you, that’s a good thing, we should do that, but when it’s in our capacity to do more and we don’t as he says:) but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, (How have you really helped?) what does it profit?
Verse 17: Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
You know the Good Samaritan probably knew that there was no way for the man to repay, so he just assumed that this would be a gift and that would be the end of it.
Let’s go back to Luke, chapter 10. What I’d like to do is make a comparison between verse 29 and verse 36 and then compare a number of the other questions and ask a number of other questions here that are going on.
Luke 10:29 Luke 10:29But he, willing to justify himself, said to Jesus, And who is my neighbor?
American King James Version× But he, (the lawyer) wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Then in verse 36, Christ then asked:
Verse 36: “ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”
It’s a different question. The first question is: Who is my neighbor as in, what are the limits to my obligations? Christ’s question is: Take a look at yourself or take a look at the story, who performed as a neighbor? We’re not trying to see who our neighbor is, but who is performing as a neighbor, who is acting like a neighbor, who is the neighbor, to the guy who fell among thieves? So Christ answered the lawyers original question: Who is my neighbor? Was the question that Christ asked the end? Who is the neighborly one? Who is acting as a neighbor? What’s the emphasis? Well the emphasis is not on to whom must I show love, but rather how can I act as a neighbor to someone? To whom will I be a neighbor? A neighbor cannot be categorized according to Christ. It is anyone who is on the path and who is in need. The only thing is the Samaritan had in common with the Jew probably in the Jew’s eyes was that he was a human being, but in Christ’s world that was enough, that was enough. What is the difference between the lawyer’s emphasis and Christ’s emphasis? Obligation verses opportunity. Obligation verses opportunity. Christ did not limit by definition who a neighbor is. It said he asked the question proving something greater than the exact question anticipated. Being a neighbor to someone is not limited to family relations. It’s not limited to proximity, it is showing the love of God to all who are in need, in fact having the love of God to all who are in need, no matter when that need may surprise us by appearing. Most of the time emergencies by nature are surprises. Most of the time needs when they crop up by nature are surprises, we don’t expect them. In specific though, with regards to the lawyers question by showing that a Samaritan was neighbor to a Jew, Christ had demonstrated that a Jew should be a neighbor even to a Samaritan and of course that would have been scandalous at the time.
I would like to bring out as we surely wrap up, a number of lessons from the story that may not be as quite as obvious as some of the ones we’ve already discussed. We should finish the story though. Sorry about that. We always have to read the conclusion. Start with verse 36.
Verse 36: “ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”
Verse 37: And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Just like Christ had said earlier that apparently the lawyer needed a different, a little more clarification. Christ then provided the clarification and said: “Go and be neighborly, not worrying about who is technically a neighbor.”
A couple other lessons from this story that I think we need to glean. This story speaks more than just being a neighbor. It speaks to the whole attitude and approach that we have with regard to God’s word and how God is working with us as human beings. If you recall back to Hebrews chapter 8 where God said: “Oh that there was such a heart” or He says “I will write my law in their hearts and minds.” Back in Leviticus God says of Israel, “Oh that they had such a heart.” They’re not worried about the small fine print of the law, but they simply had a heart to do this. There would be no question when you come up on a situation like this of asking who is my neighbor? So this story should convey to us a whole lot more than love towards our neighbor. It should reflect what God would like to see in us, deep down within us and how we should regard God’s word.
So let me throw out a few thoughts to kind of through around our grey matter a little bit. One lesson is, doing what is right without doing what is right simply won’t cut it and we all know that. Matthew chapter 7, we won’t turn there, verses 21 through 29, knowing what is right without doing what is right won’t cut it. In this case the Levite, the priest, they knew what was right but did not do what was right, that won’t cut it.
Secondly. Doing good without the heart also won’t cut it. Just being mechanical in our inherence to what we read specifically in scripture is not what God is ultimately looking for. He’s looking for people who have a heart. Deuteronomy 5, verse 29. I said Leviticus earlier, I meant it should have been Deuteronomy. God said:
Deuteronomy 5:29 Deuteronomy 5:29O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!
American King James Version× “ Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments that it might be well with them and with their children forever!”
So doing good without the heart also won’t cut it. We have to ask God for that heart.
Third lesson. This is probably also seem odd. Yes we cannot use one part of God’s law to avoid doing another part of God’s law. Christ took the Pharisees to task in Matthew 23: “You’re very careful counting out specific seed of mint and anise and cumin in terms of paying the tithe and He says you neglected in the meantime, you have no room left He basically told them, for judgment, mercy and faith.” He says I don’t have a problem if you want to be specific about the tithes, but you can’t be leaving out judgment, mercy and faith.
Fourth lesson. The attitude that God wants us to see in us is not what is the minimum am I’m required to do, but rather what is the maximum I am able to do? I’ll repeat that. The attitude God wants to see in us is not what is the minimum I’m required to do but rather what is the maximum I am able to do. We have in Luke 17, again I won’t go there, verses 7 through 10 it talks about the unprofitable servant. Christ talks about it, if you have a servant who does all that you specifically wrote down and said for him or her to do, He says that’s still not a profitable servant. So likewise with us, if we are just doing what we’re told, God’s going to say to us, you know that’s not being a profitable servant. We have the example in Matthew chapter 25 where Christ said: Keep the talent until I come, so what did the guy with the one talent do? He kept it until He came and that was it and Christ said, you’re an unprofitable servant. So the attitude God would like to see in us again, not what’s the minimum I’m required to do. That was the question from the lawyer, but rather what is the maximum I am able to do?
Fifth lesson. We are not the center of the universe. We need to make sure that God is our center. We need to make sure that God is our center.
Now for you sport fans out there and this goes a little while back, there’s a book (I’m not going to tell you who it is, I want to see if anybody knows after church) but there is a biography written and the title of the autobiography was “I am third.” It comes from a phrase and it says God is first, people are second, and I am third. I think it’s a pretty good philosophy to have.
Sixth lesson. We have to be willing to be touched. I don’t mean in the brain. We have to be willing to be emotionally affected by someone’s need and we have to be willing to be inconvenienced. Remember the story of Christ and the lady came up to Him and I’m sure Christ kept pretty busy with people coming up to Him all the time. She wanted, I think her daughter to be healed and Christ said, you know it’s not right that I should give what’s meant for the children. He said the dogs and the lady said, yes but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table. Christ was emotionally affected and He healed that lady’s daughter. Other times in the New Testament it said that Christ had compassion, He was even moved to tears. We have to be emotionally affected.
Last point. We can’t be afraid of these types of situations. The Samaritan was not afraid of the situation. He was not afraid to get involved. He was not afraid to take this person up. He wasn’t fearful, he wasn’t hesitant, he took the initiative, he sacrificed. Of course Romans chapter 12 basically throughout the entire chapter talks about that.
So God does not look upon who we are, God looks on what we are. Just because the priest and the Levite were a priest and a Levite, that did not matter to God if they weren’t acting like a priest and Levite. Just because we’re in the Church of God as it is named, does not guarantee anything if we don’t have the heart or actions of a Christian. I’ve said it before, maybe not for a while in this congregation, but in other sermons I’ve given, God will not, does not need to look on any list from any church organizations to see who’s going to be in the Kingdom of God. He has His own list, it’s called the Book of Life. The two lists may not always be identical. God says do and you shall live. He says do and you will be in the Book of Life. That’s what He says.
So how can we be a neighbor and what prevents us from doing what we know to do? Just a question for us to think about.
So a little bit of an epilogue. As always you have to be careful with stories on the internet and you look up two internet sites and you see three versions of this particular story and I doubt I’m the first person to ever mention this story from the pulpit, but apparently the story exactly what happened, I guess if you look up two internet sites you get three versions of the story, but apparently it actually did happen. So I’m counting on the fact that this is a true story.
An experiment was carried out in New York. A group of Seminarians, not Samaritans. Seminarians, those attending a seminary and maybe I’ve mispronounced that, but they were asked to prepare a homily on the parable of the Good Samaritan as part of learning how to preach. In other words they were supposed to expound the lesson. They prepared their text in one building and then they had to walk down the street to a studio where it was going to be recorded on video or something. In one version of the story, apparently the person that they were going to present this in front of the head priest or whatever. Apparently he was well known that he wanted people on time and well prepared and you dare not be late or anything like that, don’t upset this guy. So an actor was hired and dressed up as a wounded man lying along the pavement, covered with blood, begging for help. Eighty percent of those of these people who were supposed to be preaching about the Good Samaritan walked right past him, didn’t stop, didn’t help, didn’t call for help, walked right past him. They had studied the parable and even composed beautiful words about it, that they could walk by the wounded man and just ignored him.
Now I trust that we would not do such a thing. But if we did such a thing, then we would be no better if we simply just enjoyed this parable without doing something about it. I hope no matter, if it’s this parable or whatever lesson that we read from God’s word, that we think about it and we ask ourselves, o.k., not to whom am I obligated, but rather ask, what opportunity would I have to apply what I just read? What opportunity would I have because that is really what the Kingdom of God is all about.