The command to love your neighbour is well-known. The parable of the Good Samaritan is almost as well-known!
As sometimes happens, the parable was actually given in response to a question, to clarify a point. So, if we’re going to get to grips with the parable we need to pay close attention to the question that prompted it too. We’ll find that the man asking the question is looking at God’s laws the wrong way round. And (maybe surprisingly) you might find you’re actually hearing the parable the wrong way round too…
Don’t look for love’s boundaries (25-29)
This section of Luke’s gospel begins with a question. Read Luke 10:25.
- He’s probably referring to Daniel 12:2, where we read that one day some people will be raised “to eternal life” (and some “to disgrace and eternal contempt”).
We were thinking last week about how people ask you questions and how often you’ll find it much more helpful to ask a question back! So, read Luke 10:26.
- It’s a lovely move, partly because it shows how Jesus trusts the authority of God’s law, partly because it reveals the understanding of the man asking the question.
Actually, the man answers very well indeed. He gives the same answer Jesus would have given: Read Luke 10:27.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind”
- It’s Deuteronomy 6:4-5, and every Jewish child learnt it from an early age and recited it.
- There is only one God and you’re to love him and be devoted to him wholly, 100%.
- All your heart (emotions, desires, inclinations), soul (or “life” – all you are), strength (the best of you), mind (thoughts, plans, hopes for the future).
- Love him – serve him actively, building your life with a God-ward focus.
“your neighbour as yourself”
- Leviticus 19:18.
- In the context of living out your holiness, distinctiveness to God, you’re to love others.
- Leviticus 19 is a list of very practical, day-to-day things to do to live out holiness in your life. And to love your neighbour is very much the summary of it all.
But we mustn’t skate past this verse too quickly.
Who has kept those laws? Who even can (other than Jesus)?
They’re beyond us; we’re twisted away from God and none of us loves him or each other as we should. So Jesus’ reply is true, but humbling: Read Luke 10:28.
- Worse (for us), that “do this” is written to mean that you have to do it and keep doing it, faultlessly, always.
- Who could? How? (Other than Jesus.)
The alarm bells really ring in v29. Read Luke 10:29.
- When it says “justify” there, it means “make right with God” – he wants to make his own righteousness before God.
- He hasn’t grasped the full challenge of the command to love God and to love his neighbour.
- That’s revealed in his question. “And who is my neighbour?” is really asking, “Who do I need to love, and therefore who don’t I need to love?”
- “What are the borders and boundaries of love?”
- “What’s the minimum standard I need to hit to achieve my goal of eternal life?”
Is that really love? We like to know the boundaries of grace and love; we want to know how close can I go to sin without sinning.
- If you do discover a boundary like that, don’t even dream of approaching it – you’ll trip over the line every time.
- Better: Run in the opposite direction as fast as you can!
So, the man asking Jesus the questions seems like he’s asking something reasonable (how to receive eternal life), but in truth his heart is hard. He’s calculating, not loving.
So Jesus tells a parable. But the parable shows the man how impossible such love truly is. Which leaves you with a question too: “How can I inherit eternal life, if I’m unable to love the way I’m supposed to?”
You’re needed as a neighbour (30-37)
So we come to the parable of the Good Samaritan. I want to suggest that that’s the wrong title!
Why? Think about the parable and who’s in it:
- A man gets mugged and left for dead.
- The man is passed by by a priest and a Levite.
- Then the man is helped by a Samaritan.
- Who’s is about? The man.
So I’m giving you a revised title: The parable of the man who needed a neighbour who would love him as they loved themselves.
If you really want to understand this parable, you need to get the question Jesus asks at the end: Read Luke 10:36.
- You need to see the whole thing from the perspective of the man left for dead in the ditch.
- He needed a neighbour, if anyone did.
Read Luke 10:30.
- Jerusalem is on a hill. Wherever you’re going from there, you’re going downhill!
- The road to Jericho was about 18 miles and the possibility of a mugging was real. This is a realistic scenario.
Read Luke 10:31.
- We’re not interested in the priest’s reasons.
- We’re looking at events from the perspective of the man in the ditch.
- His spirits might rise at the thought of a priest coming along – surely he’ll help? A bit like seeing a pastor or vicar coming along. But no – the priest kept on walking.
So read Luke 10:32.
- The man in the ditch might hope the Levite would help.
- It’s like a church volunteer or someone whose known for doing lots of good things. But again, no…
A Samaritan? Really?
Now read Luke 10:33.
- The Jews and Samaritans didn’t get on, to say the least.
- When someone wanted to be offensive to Jesus, they said he was a Samaritan!
- It went back centuries, back to the Assyrian exile in 2 Kings 17.
- Is this hated Samaritan traveller a neighbour?
- If the man in the ditch was a Jew, he might not have thought so.
- The expert in the law Jesus was speaking to certainly would not think of Samaritans as neighbours.
- And yet, it’s clear that that Samaritan will love the man in the ditch as he loves himself; the Samaritan chooses to love his neighbour, to be a neighbour.
So read Luke 10:34-35.
- What does it look like to love your neighbour?
- It’s other-person-oriented action.
- True love and compassion acts even when there’s no-one else to see it (the priest and Levite might have been different in a crowded street).
- Love needs only an object; it doesn’t need an audience, and doesn’t ask for repayment or reward.
The expert in the law wanted to know who was his neighbour. The answer is anybody who needs you to be one. Read Luke 10:36-37.
Say it again, the expert in the law wanted to know who was his neighbour. The answer is anybody who needs you to be one.
- You’re to move towards pain.
- Go to the least, the lost, the broken in society.
- Go to the downtrodden and neglected.
- And as you love them, you love the Lord.
It’s too hard to love your neighbour like this
If you’re honest at this point, you’ll realise something bubbling up inside you. Two words: “I can’t.”
- Lord, I can’t love like this. I just can’t do it.
- Which means you can’t inherit eternal life (v28).
- You can’t make your own righteousness.
- So what hope of righteousness is there?
Look at Galatians 5:4-6:
4 You who are trying to be justified by the law are alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace.
- Paul is making a wider argument about how no-one can be justified by the law (as the expert in the law was trying)
5 For we eagerly await through the Spirit, by faith, the hope of righteousness.
- Your “hope of righteousness” isn’t found in what you try to do to be good; it’s by faith in Christ.
6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love.
- This is the liberating truth that Jesus is leading you to!
- Your hope of righteousness is faith in Christ.
- And his love to you is seen in your faith, and your faith is expressed in love to him – and to others.
The passage in Galatians goes on to speak of the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control).
- As your love for God grows by faith, the fruit of the Spirit are found in you more and more.
- And the head of the list is love. The whole list is other-person-oriented.
- No wonder those who live by the Spirit are to keep in step with him – and that means loving our neighbours.
So, how can you love your neighbour when naturally you can’t?
- Realise your sinful nature prevents you loving God or other people truly.
- Repent of your sin, and cry out to God for forgiveness!
- He will hear you, and adopt you, and send his Holy Spirit into you (he is in every Christian).
- And you will learn to love as he loves: Looking for the low, the broken, the needy – and giving without seeking return.
So God’s love and blessing flows to you, and through you. Then you are in step with the Spirit who dwells in you. All by faith. You even love God himself only by faith. So:
Love your neighbour
It should be clear by now that you’re not to ask who your neighbour is.
You’re to be a neighbour to anyone who needs one (get the question the right way round), and you’re to love them as you love yourself.
- So love the lost. The most loving thing you can do is tell someone about Jesus and point them to eternal life.
- Love the poor. They need you. Close to home and all over the world. Charles Thompson’s Mission; SGA.
- Love the disadvantaged. There are plenty such in our society.
- The man who was mugged and left to die was fictional, but still he’s everywhere.
- He’s in Ukraine, bombed out of his home.
- You’ll see him in Turkey and Syria, having lost everything and everyone in natural disaster.
- Sometimes, he’s forced to flee his homeland and risk his life in a boat across the channel.
- He needs you to be his neighbour.
If you think you’re growing in Christian maturity, you should be growing in the fruit of the Spirit, and love in particular. Christian maturity reaches down to others instead of just looking down on them. That’s the attitude of Christ.
Sometimes, these things touch on politics.
- When Donald Trump became president one of the first announcements he made was that his presidency would put “America First” – the very opposite of being a loving, generous neighbour to those who need it.
- The lies and immorality of our own Government leads us to call them out: Deportation to Rwanda is not the neighbourly love anyone would need or ask for.
- Politics is usually about money and power rather than love and compassion. Calling one party out shouldn’t be seen as support for the other side.
- Stand for love, compassion, and mercy. Stand for the weak, downtrodden, voiceless.
Safe in church
There’s something we need to mention before we close, and this relates to you if you’ve ever been the man in the ditch.
If you’ve found yourself in a bad place, in need of love.
- You might have been passed by by a pastor, a church, or someone you expected better from. Let down and hurt.
- Churches aren’t perfect, but thankfully the Lord will never let you down.
- Please don’t give up on church – Jesus loves his church and would love for you to be loved by it.
- If you can (and with help), let’s be different. Let’s be the exception, the counter-example, the safe church.
- Be the change. Be the Christian and church member who will be the neighbour to others, so that we all are.
- As we forgive and love one another, we become a safe place for others as we lead them to Jesus who lives, loves, and walks among us.
So, since God shows you what love is, and calls you to love him by faith, then love him by faith and love others as he does – freely, selflessly, and to his glory.
Who needs you to be their neighbour? Find them and love them.