In our ever changing world of political opponents, colliding worldviews, and unrest of differing opinions, I thought it would be nice to just pause and take a look at what Jesus had to say about being neighborly. Even to those who are completely different than us. This story comes from Luke 10:26-37.
Jesus is in a situation in which the religious leaders of the time, called pharisees, were continually trying to trap Him and prove to the world that Jesus is not who He says He is. We pick up with a question in which the expert of the law ask Jesus about how to get into heaven, to which Jesus replies, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”
The expert replies, “‘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.”
A very simple answer, but then the expert of the law asked a very significant question, one that applies to us regularly today: “And who is my neighbor?”
Now Jesus, instead of answering the question immediately, goes into that famous story we know as the Good Samaritan and the implications are substantial.
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by 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, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii 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.’
“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.
Well, of course we can answer that just as the expert of the law does. It is the one who shows mercy, the good Samaritan.
You and I don’t immediately feel the tension of what Jesus has done because we don’t have a good grasp on the racial and political tension between Jews and Samaritans. The Samaritans were a people who resided in a portion of ancient Israel toward the end of the Old Testament period and who, like the Jews, worshiped Yahweh.
About eight centuries before the time of Christ, the Jews living in the Northern Kingdom were taken captive by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. Some Jews were deported to Assyria, and some Assyrians were imported into the Northern Kingdom. The Jews who remained did not entirely relinquish their true worship of God, despite the introduction of Assyrian cults.
For centuries there was animosity and division between the Jewish people and the Samaritans that continued into the first century. If you were raised in a Jewish family, you were taught at a young age to hate the Samaritans. You grew up with disgust for them. They were considered outsiders and outcasts from the nation of Israel. They looked differently than you. They talked differently than you. They believed differently than you.
The very fact that this man helped the injured victim goes against everything the mainstream culture of the time thought was right and good. Believe it or not, this goes far beyond a democrat helping a republican or vise versa. This divide is beyond wide. And yet, here we see what Jesus’ desire for humanity: to look beyond our differences and show mercy to those who we don’t believe deserve it.
That is in fact what he did for us. Romans 5:8 says, “But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”
While we stood against Him, He gave everything for us and showed us mercy. While we chose to ignore Him, mocked Him, abandoned Him, He still pursued and pursues us. The Good Samaritan story shows us that God’s desire for us is to look beyond our differences and care for our neighbors.
Now I am not saying that we have to agree with them, but what if we spent some time getting to know them, hear their stories, listen to what in this life has caused them to think the way they think? That may be tough but I’ve noticed it easier for strangers to fight, while closer friends can often weather much more challenging discussions. It’s not easy but it is always so much more meaningful.
I guess my hope in sharing this today is that there are so many reasons to not be neighborly, but what if we could simply look for one reason to be neighborly? The world might just look a little different. See you out there!
Phil Wiebe is the lead pastor at Lakeview Church in Stansbury Park.