By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
July 14, 2019
Luke 10:25–37 (ESV)
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
These past few weeks have been a blessing as well as filled with stress. I want to thank those that stepped up and allowed me and my family the time to spend back home last week. The time away from the city to celebrate the life of my grandmother was something I will cherish. The time with family was a blessing, coming back and getting back into the swing of daily life was a tad bit stressful. Nothing that could not be managed but things at work were not done the way I do things so I had to get thing put back in order, and I had to get my mind and spirit back into the mode I live.
Last week Jesus sent out the seventy-two disciples. They went out sharing the gospel, healing sick, casting out demons in the name of Jesus and they were excited. They were beyond excited, they were ready to take on the world! When I read about their return to Jesus after their experience I am often reminded of the time I spent in Ukraine.
I did not see anyone miraculously healed. I did not see demon possessed people released from bondage. I did see something far more interesting. I saw people change before my eyes. People throughout the world are not really all that different if you take the time to get to know them. Every student I spoke with in Ukraine could have been a student here in the United States. They had similar dreams, they faced similar struggles. Some of those struggles might require different means to over come because of what is available to them but life in general was not all that different. There were some differences though, like only having hot water available for two hours a day. And the greatest struggle for me was they did not know what Dr. Pepper was so when I was thirsty I had to drink water, Fanta, or Coke. The struggle was very real. But once we got used to the little inconveniences life went on. We interacted with the students and they interacted with us as if we had been friends for much longer than the time we spent together. I went to Ukraine knowing very little about the people. I went not knowing the language. I went thinking that they were basically the exact opposite of my culture. What I found was friends.
When we first arrived in Kiev after spending most of a day on an airplane we were excited. We had spent months reading and preparing how to give our testimonies. I studied everything I could on how to answer every potential question about faith that I would likely encounter. We quickly learned a few phrases to communicate with those individuals that might not speak English. For a week spent planning the classes we were going to teach, learning about our fellow teachers, and worshiping together. We were ready to take on the world. Then we boarded an overnight train heading to Odessa. We began speaking to students, interviewing them and offering places in our English classes. We figured out how to move around the city. We visited several universities and learned how to order hamburgers and ice cream at McDonald’s in a language we really did not know. The classes started and we began to get to know the students and their dreams, we shared our faith and they shared as well. In Ukraine our English classes were highly regarded because for the students in that country to attend a university they had to be fluent in Ukrainian, Russian, German, English, and an fifth elective language. And each year they took a test to prove they knew the languages. The stress placed on the students was high. And I saw tension and the weight these students carried on their shoulders be lifted as they changed their perspective away from the things of the world and the things of God. We taught two hundred students that summer and half of those student began a journey of faith. And probably half of the ones that did not begin a journey were committed Russian or Ukrainian Orthodox Christians and we saw their faith deepen before our eyes.
I identify with the seventy-two when I remember that story because I have been in a similar situation. We were filled with such energy and hope. And then we boarded a train to head back to Kiev, and we began to talk about what was going on. And we realized just how much more training we needed before we left because we really did not know what we were getting into.
After Jesus and the disciples had this conversation, a teacher came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. We are told that this was a test. The religious leaders were all asking questions of Jesus trying to understand what his views were, and also trying to see if his stances matched their own. They were wanting to place Jesus into one of the various groups. They wanted to place a label on him. They wanted to claim him as one of their own, or discredit him as belonging to a different group.
This man comes to Jesus, with a test. He asks, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He already had an answer in his own mind. He was a lawyer, a teacher of the law. In his mind he knew what was required to have eternal life. Jesus answers this man with a question of his own, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
We may not notice just how important this small conversation is. Jesus knows that this man is asking for an answer from which this man can make a judgment. Jesus turns the question around. This means that Jesus is no longer has to defend. Once the question is turned around to the tester the test is over and it becomes a conversation. Both parties must reveal themselves to each other. When the man initiated the question he was hoping for an answer, something he himself would not have to engage with if he did not want to, but Jesus brought him. This shows us a great deal in how we should relate to others around us. To answer the man’s question Jesus needed to know where to begin. The man answers, “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 your neighbor as yourself.” This sounds pretty familiar doesn’t it.
The teacher of the law, is teaching the same massage that Jesus taught. And Jesus says to the man in essence, “Yep do that.” To love God with everything you have and are and to love your neighbor as yourself is exactly what God wanted from the very dawn of time and is all required even today. If that was all we focused on imagine what the world might be like.
This answer was not enough for the man, and to be honest it is not enough for us either. We like things to be very clear. With definite lines letting us know where we stand. If we leave our life’s purpose in this abstract place of loving God with everything and our neighbor as ourselves where are the lines? The mans asks, “Who is my neighbor?”
The man asks this question for one reason, self justification. He asks this question because humans can justify even the worst behavior as long as it give them their desired results. He asks this question, because he knows that he in himself has not fulfilled the very thing he teaches. Jesus also knows.
To answer this man’s ridiculous question, Jesus tells one of the most well known parables he ever told, the parable of the good Samaritan. We have heard the story many times. A man gets beat up on the road, he is lying there bleeding out and a priest walks by on the other side. Then a Levite walks by on the other side. Finally a Samaritan comes to this man and sees him in distress and he has compassion and takes care of the man.
Jesus tells this story, and we have probably heard it many times. We have listened to people talking about the various actions of each of the individuals and how hypocritical or awesome they might be. We know the moral of the story. But I want us to take a look at it from a different perspective.
The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was very dangerous. Though it is not exactly a great distance but the terrain is difficult. There is an 3300 ft change in elevation in seventeen miles. When traveling through trails like this there are areas that have outcroppings and drop offs. And it is said that bandits were often hiding along this roadway looking to make a quick profit.
Who are these bandits? We are not told who the bandits are exactly but they terrorized the travelers. We are often told that one person’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighters. I am not saying that we should condone these men but they were out there for a reason. And some historians have said that these bandits, these terrorists might have been gangs of zealots. People that were fighting and in this case raising support for their cause. They were surrounding Jerusalem, the most important city of Judea. Hiding along the roads going in and out. We are not told who the man was that was beaten, he could have been Jewish or he might have been a Gentile. He might have been a collaborator, an opposing faction, or just a simple person in the wrong place at the wrong time. We do not know, but the reactions of the people to the man send a clear message.
The priest walks on the other side. For us in the United States we do not have a real good understanding as to what this really means. We are used to wide streets and highways. It is not like the priest saw this body in the distance and crossed the street. This man was literally in the middle of the road, and the priest would have had to basically climb the mountain to avoid getting near the man. This was not a passive avoidance but one that took a great deal of effort. Why? The Levite also went to great lengths to avoid this man in need. But the Samaritan, this man that probably should not have even been on that road did something.
Jesus asks at the end of this story who was a neighbor to the man? The hero of the story is a man that is seen as the enemy of the Jews. And the villains were those that we would often give the greatest respect. Who is our neighbor?
I sat with this question for a while. I find it to be the dumbest question ever asked of Jesus, but I sat with it. I studied the meaning of the word and as you might expect it means just what you think. A neighbor is someone near you. But we then need to define near. Self justification. Jesus is pointing out to this man asking the question. This man who was trying to test him with fancy words, that they can twist anything to fit their own narrative.
Who was this man laying in the road? We do not know. He might have been anyone. He could have been an important man in society or a poor beggar. He was a person. A person in need. But each of us have our own needs and desires. The last time I spoke of this story I am certain I spoke about the ceremonial aspects of why a priest or Levite might avoid the man. We need to remember who Jesus is talking to. This is a man of that class. He is a religious leader within the community. This man is using his religion to justify why he might not associate with another person, while in the same breath telling Jesus that he interprets the law to mean love God with everything and love your neighbor as yourself. What is the criteria we use to alienate someone near us?
I work in retail in a part of the Kansas City Metro area that has people from nearly every corner of the world. I can walk around the store and hear two or even five different languages spoken all around me at any given moment. Who is my neighbor? Just last evening I was walking around shopping after my shift and I spent a few moments speaking with a family from India as we were looking at shirts and jackets celebrating the first lunar landing and I listened as that family encouraged their child with stories of that day in the exact same way as I explained it to my own sons. They like me were proud to live in a country where people accomplished that, and I listened as they told their son that he too could do great things. Earlier that same day I heard a similar conversation between a mother and daughter. And another between a Muslim mother and her daughter. Who is our neighbor? In each instance everyone was excited to be living in the country that accomplished such a remarkable and seemingly unreachable feat. There was pride and hope in the words. Then I walked on by and heard different conversations, conversations that I am sure you can imagine, ones that were not so neighborly.
The law teaches and has always taught to love God with all that we have and all that we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves, why is that so difficult? We draw lines all over to give us a reason to not live this out. I grew up loving Kansas State University and some of you like Kansas University, when it comes to a game we will cheer for our team but outside of that who cares. Will we stop avoid each other because we like a different university? What happens when someone near us likes Missouri University or even Oklahoma University or dare we say Texas? School rivalries we see as harmless fun, but eventually they mature into something different like political parties, denominations, nations, and unions. Each group looking out for only their own ideas and people like them. These rivalries can get so intense where we become so callous we begin to forget that there is a person standing in front of us.
Who is my neighbor? It is that person near you. It might be your spouse. It might be someone from down the street or even from across the world. If they are near you they are your neighbor. If they have breath in their lungs they are your neighbor. God so loved your neighbor that He gave his son to die for them. God so loved you that he sent his son to provide you with eternal life. God so love women that he sent his son to die for them, and God so loved men he provided the same thing. It is easy to say. I sing it nearly every night to Albert, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world…” You might know the rest of the song. But do we live that song?
Often we are like the priest and the Levite we will go to great lengths to avoid nearness. We will even put ourselves and those around us in harm just to avoid nearness. We will justify our actions. We will even provide chapter and verse to justify our actions or lack of action. We are free to have our own opinion. We were each given that curse from our first parents Adam and Eve, we have the knowledge of good and evil. We have our opinions and we can try our hardest to justify why. But can we gaze at the face of Jesus and say we are right?
I have struggled with this as I have reflected on this passage. I have struggled because I am guilty of liking people that like K-State more than I like people that like KU. And I have no reason real justification because I attended a completely different school altogether so what does it really matter. I struggle because I have my own preferences and prejudices. I struggle because I get angry when people do not see things the way I see them or do things the way I do them. I struggle because sometimes I just want to be left alone and want people to stop talking. I struggle. Because it is hard to see that of God in others because I often do not see that of God in myself. I struggle because I can barely make ends meet so how can I possibly help someone else. I struggle because my focus is sometimes not directed to the places they should be. I am guilty of climbing a mountain to avoid a conversation. And I am guilty of provoking anger instead of encouragement.
The Samaritan saw the man and had compassion. He went to the man and bound his wounds and poured oil and wine on them. He lifted the man onto his own animal and took him to an inn where he took care of him. The next day he took two day’s wages and gave them to the innkeeper and asked him to care for the man, and promised to come back to provide whatever else was needed. Why did he do that? Because he did not care about what others thought. He only saw the person before him. That man’s generosity and hospitality spoke more to the wounded man’s condition than all the educated words someone could speak. That man’s actions reflected Christ.
When I went to Ukraine I realized something significant, people are people. There is no difference. We all are great and we all are terrible in equal measure. We all have good ideas and we all are blind to reason in other ways. Who is our neighbor?