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Sermon blog: Don’t pass me by

July 22, 2017

Luke 10:25-37
Along with his story of the Lost Son, this is probably the best known of Jesus’ parables, and like the other, it has entered our vocabulary.

Just as we talk about a wayward child as being the prodigal, we also talk about people as being a good Samaritan.

In 2011 the BBC asked readers to share their stories of how a Good Samaritan had helped them. And they received a number of stories which showed how the intervention of a complete stranger can transform a life or even save it:

• A Plymouth A&E Doctor who saved the life of a man having a heart attack in a Cornish car park, and kept in touch with the hospital to check his progress

• A man who leapt into a car as it rolled down the hill with a 6 year old girl in it, while her father was in the pub

• A driver who stopped and put petrol in the motorbike of a preacher, and left without saying a word

• A couple in Canada who took in two young holiday makers lost in a storm

All these perhaps have some elements of the story we have read but are unable to do full justice to the original good Samaritan.

Is a true good Samaritan just a nice person who does nice things to nice people?

This particular story that Jesus told had a context. And just like those lost parables that Jesus tells in Luke 15, the story was told in response to particular people who listened. In Luke 15, Jesus spoke in response to moaning. Here he spoke in response to a question.

The people common to both conversations are the teachers of the law, or as he is described in this chapter, an EXPERT in the law.

Luke earlier identifies the experts in the law as being those who rejected John the Baptist, and accordingly rejected God’s purposes for them.

They rejected Jesus.

Their questions and their moaning become a regular feature in the gospels.

It would be nice to think that the expert on this occasion was genuine and interested in what Jesus had to say, but Luke is clear that the man stood up to test Jesus. In the gospels we see sustained attempts by his opponents, sometimes forming alliances, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, an alliance more unlikely than the Conservatives and the Liberals, or the Conservatives and the DUP, in their efforts to trip him up.

Jesus dealt with their questions so well that at times they would just give up asking.

This man is an expert. Other people listen to him when he talks about the law. The Law of Moses.

His specialist subject is the Torah, the laws that we find in the first 5 books of the Bible, that we sometimes call the Pentateuch:

• Genesis

• Exodus

• Leviticus

• Numbers

• Deuteronomy

That’s a lot of reading. Jewish tradition claimed that in those books of the law they found not just 10, but 613 commandments to follow in order to obey God.

But the expert in the law in turn addresses Jesus as “Teacher”. What kind of teacher is he? What does he believe about the big questions?

The expert goes for one of the big ones:

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This was not the only time Jesus was asked this question. Another young man of means once asked him the same question.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

What must I DO?

It is interesting that he talks about eternal life as something to be inherited. For inheritance usually happens irrespective of what we do. If we are the heirs or if our names are in the will, the inheritance is ours. It’s not something we earn, unless of course we have done all we can to worm ourselves into somebody’s good books!

Eternal life.

It’s what so many people want to know about.

“Is this all there is to life?”

“What happens when we die?”

“Is there really such a thing as everlasting life?”

Certainly not for the only time in his life, Jesus, like many good teachers, doesn’t answer the question. He turns the conversation around with a question of his own.

“What is written in the Law?”

The Law. The secret to eternal life is to be found in the laws of Moses. In there somewhere is the way to life.

So here is the expert, he knows the 613 laws inside out and back to front, so how is he to sum this all up?

Have you ever been to an event where you are told to introduce yourself or your business in 60 seconds?

Can you describe yourself in a few words?

Or are you a Twitter expert who can express your passions and your opinions in just 140 characters?

“How do you read it?” asks Jesus.

The answer is staggering. 613 laws, not to mention the ones that man sought to add are reduced by the teacher into just 2 sentences

“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 neighbour as yourself”.

He takes a couple of verses from Deuteronomy 6 and a small bit of a verse from Leviticus 19, and says “That’s it. That is the law in summary. And THAT is how you inherit eternal life”

This summary of the law appears elsewhere (Matthew 22 – “the greatest commandment”; Mark 12 – the “most important commandment”).

It seems to have been a popular teaching.

You can boil the whole of the law of Moses down into two things; how we treat God, and how we treat our neighbours.

It’s an amazing thought, but think about it, follow those two rules and you will keep the whole law. And if you do that it leads to eternal life.

Of course you’re all sitting there shaking your heads.

“That’s not how you inherit eternal life!”

But Jesus answers “You are correct”.

And he continues “Do this and you will live”.

So there’s the good news for this evening.

If you want to live forever, you just need to obey 2 little tiny rules.

“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 neighbour as yourself”.

AS Bruce Forsyth used to say “That’s all there is to it!”

But the expert isn’t finished. Maybe it’s occurred to him as it has to you.

That’s impossible!

I mean the first bit he seems to be alright with. There was a lot of piety in Jesus’ day. The Pharisees, the experts like these. Remember how the rich young man we mentioned earlier said that he had kept all the commandments from his childhood.

But love your neighbour as yourself? Is this where the expert is struggling?

He has another question. Luke says that he wanted to justify himself. He wanted to show that he was truly the expert in the law. After all Jesus hadn’t answered any questions yet.

“And who IS my neighbour?”

Is this where the expert looks for a bit of wriggle room? How widely do we need to read these 5 words?

Who is his neighbour?

Is it just the two families who live next door on either side?

Is it the whole street?

Is it the people he works with? Surely not all of them?

Is it the people who have the same religious beliefs as him?

Is it the pillars of society and those of the same class and standing?

Is there some way we can draw a line on this love? Where is the limit?

So now we have a question that Jesus is going to answer.

With a parable.

This is not a story told in isolation.

Bear in mind as we go, this is the answer to:

“And who IS my neighbour?”

It’s a short story. It’s fast moving – the details are sparse.

An unnamed man is on a journey – from, Jerusalem to Jericho. We don’t know why he’s going. We know none of the details. He’s central to the story but he is by no means the main character.

But it is a journey that ends in disaster. A violent attack. Robbery.

Robbery, assault and battery.

Left for dead.

More characters are introduced, again with scant details.

First the priest is passing by – a leader of religion. A man who surely knows what it is to love God with all his heart soul and strength. A man who surely will do the right thing.

If the man is still conscious his hopes rise, and are promptly dashed, as the priest carries on walking, never coming near to the victim, and disappears into the distance.

A Levite is not in the same league as a priest surely but he could be the next best thing. He is part of the tribe specially chosen to assist in the temple.

It’s no better. He is not ready to stop.

Somehow Jesus is saying here that the religious people have no time for this man. Maybe they are keen to get to the service. Maybe their concern is that the man is dead and they could be ritually unclean if they touched him.

It may be that their love for the Lord, in soul strength and mind, actually in some way prevents them from “loving their neighbour”.

There is no hope.

But then another arrives on the scene. The detail is again brief.

There is only one scandalous description.

He is a Samaritan.

It’s interesting to read the modern day Good Samaritan stories, where a stranger demonstrates love and care for a person, sometimes at great cost to themselves. But one element seems to be missing from those stories, that was central to Jesus’ tale.

This man is an enemy. If the injured man is still with it, he’s thinking “Oh great. Oh no hang on. A Samaritan. That’s it for me then…”

In his gospel, John writes simply “Jews did not associate with Samaritans”. Thus the surprise when Jesus stopped to talk to a Samaritan woman, and to ask for her help.

Jesus of course was rejected by the Jewish religious leaders, but accepted by many of those Samaritans who had the joy of meeting him, as the “Saviour of the world”.

The Samaritans had intermarried with those of other nations and faiths. They had built their own temple at Mount Gerizim. They even had their own version of the Pentateuch, and apparently rejected the rest of the Old Testament.

Which was the right temple? Jesus had the answer. “Never mind where you worship. True worshippers will worship in Spirit and in truth”.

Jew or Samaritan.

These Samaritans were best kept at a distance. They were a people who were known for spiritual and moral compromise.

Unlike the people of Judah of course!?

Like the other two, the Samaritan saw the dying man. There the similarity ended. His reaction was one of love. Pity for the man.

• Firstly he came to his aid. He administered first aid. Oil and wine.

• He rescued him – put him on his own donkey

• He cared for him – taking him to the inn

• He continued to provide for his needs – paying what was the equivalent of around 2 days’ wages for a labourer to the inn keeper and offering to pay more when he returned.

“Send me the bill”.

“So”, says Jesus, “Who was the neighbour to this man? Which of the 3?”

We’ve almost forgotten the expert in the law now, but he’s hanging on Jesus’ every word.

The answer is not difficult.

“It was the one who showed mercy to him”.

He is the true neighbour.

The uncomfortable truth. Perhaps it’s the case that he cannot even bring himself to say “the Samaritan”.

And the punchline?

“You go and do the same!”

You have to pinch yourself a moment and think, “where did this all start?”

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Somehow through all this is Jesus saying “You’re looking to keeping the law of God as a way TO life. Actually it’s the way OF life”.

Maybe by his standards the expert thinks he’s doing OK, but Jesus’ story shows a higher standard than he has imagined.

No your neighbour is actually the person you might regard as your enemy. The person you want absolutely nothing to do with.

In fact there are two ways of putting this.

Elsewhere Jesus simply says “But I say, love your enemies”.

So the answer to the original question is there is nothing you can do to inherit eternal life. The teaching of Jesus is plain.

None of us can live to that perfect standard of fulfilling the law in every detail.

It can only ever be through faith in Jesus, who alone lived that perfect life, fulfilling the law, and who paid the price of our sin, that we can inherit that eternal life. In that sense, like all inheritances, it is a gift.

Recently I preached on Jesus’ prayer in John 17. There he comes up with a very simple definition of eternal life. It is to know the true God and Jesus Christ.

I wonder though if I’m the only one who finds this story confusing. There’s something about it that I can’t quite pin down.

There’s a twist in this tale. You think you’ve got it. But have you?

The man wants to know “who is my neighbour?” Who is the person I can show love to?

He might have liked to think that as the story unfolded the expert in the law himself would be the hero of the story.

Perhaps even a Samaritan has been attacked and is lying in the road. If the expert gets it right, he will come to the rescue.

But the story won’t lie down that easily.

Rather than say “who was the neighbour in my story?”, Jesus asks “Who acted like a neighbour?”

It’s actually the one that you would never want to love, or care for. He is actually the one who treats us as a neighbour. It’s the one we’ve got no time for who shows us the correct way. The one who worships the same God as we do, but whose doctrine is all over the place. He is the neighbour.

Maybe even Jesus places the expert in the story, not as the hero, but as the victim, reliant on the love and care of an unlikely neighbour. That might be stretching things too far!

Yes the way of life is about loving God with total devotion.

And it is about loving others without prejudice.

That is what it should look like to be a follower of Jesus.

It’s as if Jesus challenges the expert – “Never you mind losing sleep about who is your neighbour. You just be a neighbour.

You be an example for everyone else to follow.

In this of course Jesus is the supreme example:

• The Word who “became flesh and blood and entered the neighbourhood (MSG)

• The one who touched the untouchable

• The one who spoke to the outcast

• The one who was a servant to his disciples

• The one who cried “Father forgive them” as they nailed him to a cross

If we are ever tempted to put our hope in doing what we can to be right with God, forget it. Jesus offers the way to life. Through his death and resurrection.

But for those of us who have put our trust in him, how will we live?

Where will we draw the line of love?

Who is my neighbour? Who doesn’t qualify?

That person who’s been rude to me at work? Even them?

The one who has bullied my family member?

The one who believes different things to me? Even slightly different?

The one who just doesn’t really fit in with the circles that I am part of?

Jesus turns our thinking upside down and says:

“Never mind that. You be the neighbour.”

“To everyone”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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