“Am I my brother’s keeper?” [Genesis 4:9]
Isn’t that the way we normally live our lives; the way we normally respond to situations that seem to lead us to act for the benefit of others rather that passing them by and doing nothing. It’s the way we justify not doing something; the way we naturally react to all the various people in our lives; people like coworkers and acquaintances. Isn’t it true that we find it easier to show friendliness and do good towards a few chosen people in our lives; people who we know will reciprocate with equal friendliness? But toward the majority of people whom we meet during the day, we usually do exactly as the priest and the Levite in Jesus’ parable did; we pass them by without more than a passing thought.
But in contrast, the Scriptures teach us that next to the great commandment to love God with our whole heart, body, mind, and soul, we are to “Love our neighbor as ourselves.” With such a broad, high, and demanding command as this, it isn’t unusual to find ourselves asking along with the lawyer in our gospel lesson (Luke 10:23-37)…
Who then is my neighbor, if I’m to love my neighbor as myself?
Jesus answered that question by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan who traveling alone one day happened to meet a man he could help. In that moment, this suffering, dying man next to him became his neighbor. You see, my neighbor, your neighbor is every person that we come in contact with, a person to whom we can do either harm or good towards.
Our neighbor can be a person who is close to us in the sense of proximity, or close to us in the sense that we have a God given ability to render immediate help. The Jews were prone to limit their definition of who their neighbor was, to someone who was first and foremost part of their own people, and especially part of their own family. In regards to how they would treat the others, they had a mindset that pretty much guided them, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But Jesus teaches that even the person who is unknown or indifferent or even repulsive to us becomes our neighbor as soon as we have dealings with them.
Does this seem like a difficult concept to embrace? I would not be surprised if you answered yes, because the truth is, by nature, all of us are lousy neighbors.
The belief that every fellow man is my neighbor is based in the truth that we are all so closely related to each other because of our fallen and sinful nature. But…
All of us have also, been created by God to be His children and to relate to Him through faith. In reality, we all have the same Creator-Father; we have all been redeemed by the same Savior, the Son of God. And if we are baptized, we are even more closely related in that we have all been chosen to receive the same spiritual home, a place where we will all eternally live together as members of the same family.
The unknown people that we pass by during the day while we are walking or driving are also our brothers and sisters “for whom Christ died.” [Romans 12:5] We are members of the same body, joined together by God Himself, so “that the members may have the same care for one another.” We are to love the others just as much as we love ourselves.
In the Hawaiian language, there is a beautiful word that has multiple meanings and it is Aloha. It can mean hello or goodbye. It also means love’ abiding love and affection. With that in mind let me sing to you a bit of a song written by Larry Rivera titled “Aloha Begins With Me.” I like to think of it as the “Good Samaritan Song.” Aloha Begins with me. Aloha begins with me. Aloha begins with me. When I walk down to the street, I will smile to all I meet and say Aloha! When I drive on down to town and the traffic is slowing down, I smile and say Aloha! In this country of many races we are blessed with all God’s graces. So let every creature that has breath sing His praise.
Contrary to the spirit of Aloha or the type of love the Bible calls agape love, the truth is that we are usually pretty much concerned only about ourselves and not about sharing aloha with others. But if we could only see just how closely we are related, actually one with another, wouldn’t we treat them just a little differently? “For no man ever hates his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it.” [Matthew 7:12] The simplest explanation of our obligation to love our neighbor was given by our Lord when He said: “As you wish that men would do to you, do the same to them.” [Luke 6:31]
The person who loves God is a person who truly understands who he is before a perfect and righteous God. This kind of person understands just how deep God’s love for he or she runs, and then through this understanding of true agape love, aloha, they’re given a new ability from God, to approach other people with this new kind of love. This love is given to us to be shared with both relatives and acquaintances as well as all those we encounter as we journey through life together. But this kind of love, this agape love can only come through a true Christian faith; it is something that can only be received from God as a gift. And after God gives this gift of love and faith, this person, these true Christians can say that they “both love God and know Him.”
God is love, and to live in a right relationship with God through faith in Christ means to not only have His love residing and abiding in our hearts but it also means that it radiates from within and goes out to others as well. The person who does not love his brother whom he has seen, can’t love God who he has not seen. Everyone who loves the parent loves the child.
No one can force us to love. The only way for us to receive the love of God is when He showers it upon us and in us through His means of grace. When this happens, then we can love as He first loved us. This morning, Jesus through His story about the Good Samaritan has done just that; He’s showered us with faith and grace.
In His story we should understand two important things: First, who the person robbed and dying in the ditch is and second, who the Good Samaritan is.
You like the lawyer testing Jesus, are in fact the injured traveler, who has been left to die alone in the ditch. You were beaten by your enemies the day you were conceived; they left you robbed and in the grip of death the day you were born. There was nothing you could do to save your self. Even other people, important people in your lives are helpless to save you; and even if they could help they wouldn’t because they too were left alone and dying in their own ditch of sin and death. They too, need the Good Neighbor. But Jesus story does not stop there. Next He tells you about a “Good Samaritan.”
A Samaritan was a class of people who were hated by the Jews. To call a Samaritan good would be blasphemous to the ears of a Jew. So you can understand the insult intended when the Pharisees out of frustration called Jesus a Samaritan simply because they could not trap Him and brand Him as a sinner. They said that He was a Samaritan possessed by a demon. Yes, Jesus says, “I am the “Good Samaritan.” I am the only one who can be a good neighbor; the only One who has the true aloha spirit. I alone have come to you, picked you out of the ditch, anointed your wounds with the gospel, and took both you and your burdens upon my self and carried you to be cleansed in the waters of baptism, and fed the Father’s Manna from Heaven, which is my Word, my body, and my blood. I am your champion who not only rescued you from your true enemies, but I also destroyed them for you. Now sin, death, and the devil can never harm you again.
But Jesus is also your good neighbor because He willingly took your place in the ditch; He allowed your enemies to beat, rob, and kill Him, upon the cross. But it was His life to lay down for you, and He gladly did it, just so He could take it back up again. He rose from the dead so you could see that because He has overcome death and the grave, so too shall you.
How can we become “good” neighbors? Only by receiving and being transformed by God’s mercy as given through His Son, Jesus Christ. Legalists who like to cross-examine Jesus Word and make it say a more palatable message, like the lawyer who confronted Jesus, still make no progress today towards appeasing their guilty conscience and satisfying the Law of God. They never will have peace until they recognize that they are the man half dead and Jesus is the one who does mercy as their true neighbor. The lawyer says, “I will act to love my neighbor as myself; tell me who he is.” But Jesus answers, “You can’t act, because you are dead. You need someone to love you, show mercy to you, heal you, pay for you, give you lodging, and revive you. I am the only one who does those things, but I am also the one you despise because I love to be with sinners, but in fact I am the one who fulfills the Law, who embodies it, and brings God’s mercy. I am your good neighbor and will give you the gifts of mercy, healing, and life. As I live in you, you will have life and will do mercy—not motivated by laws and definitions, but animated by my love.”
I pray that each of us will continue to allow Jesus to deliver us from the ditch of sin, heal us, and strengthen and guide us as we go out allowing Jesus to be the good neighbor through us. I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN.