Dan Rogers earned his PhD in historical theology from Union Institute and University. He is now retired, after serving many years as the Director of Church Administration & Development in Grace Communion International.
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It may seem like a strange question to ask Christians, but here it goes anyway. Do you love God? And you may think, “Well, that indeed is a strange question to ask a Christian.” Most Christians would not hesitate a moment to answer, “Yes with all my heart, all my mind, all my soul and all my being, I love God.”
Let me ask you a question that goes right along with that: Do you love your neighbor? Most of us would answer fairly quickly and probably say, “Well, yeah,” but I think we have to pause for a moment, because we know some neighbors that we’re not quite so sure whether we love or not.
Yet, Scripture says that we are to love God and love our neighbor. Does God love your neighbor? Can you love God and not love your neighbor? How can we understand loving God and loving our neighbor as we should? Jesus gave us a story in Luke chapter 10 called the Good Samaritan.
After telling us the story of the good Samaritan, Jesus then concludes with this statement to all of his followers, “Go and do likewise.” Let’s learn the lesson today from the story of the good Samaritan. If you take your Bible and turn to Luke chapter 10, we’ll begin reading in verse 25: “Just then, a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said. ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’”
We have here a doctor of the law according to pharisaical standards, someone who spent his life studying Torah and was expert in it. He was sort of a hired gun that the Pharisees had brought in to trick this Galilean peasant (who thought he was a rabbi) with an astute question.
When he asked what he thought was a very astute question, I’m sure that Jesus probably thought, “How stupid. First of all, what does he expect me to say? Does he expect me to contradict that which is written in the law? And what does he mean, how do you inherit eternal life?”
How do you inherit something? You inherit it when someone dies. You inherit it from having been in a loving relationship with the one who is now deceased. It’s a very strange question that this lawyer asked Jesus. So Jesus, rather than just give an answer, asked a question of the lawyer.
Jesus turns the tables and says to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus, in typical rabbinic fashion, answered a question with a question. Now, it was the learned doctor who had trapped himself. He had given the correct answer. He’d given the answer that every Pharisee knew from Scripture. And yet, now, Jesus had trapped him.
Reading on, “He said to him, ‘You have given the right answer. Do this and you will live.’” Now, what did Jesus mean by “do this and you will live?” Love is the fulfilling of the law. As Paul said, “Owe no man anything, but to love.” When you love your fellow human being, you are participating at the very heart, the very nature, the very shared life of God, who is love and who loves humanity, including you and your neighbor, with all of his heart and with all of his being.
When we share in God’s love, we have fulfilled all that God requires of us, for we are in a sense participating in God’s own shared life. Continuing reading: “But the doctor of the law, wanting to justify himself, asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”
Perhaps this was a question that had been bandied about by some of the rabbis or some of the scholars. The law says that we must love our neighbor, but then who indeed is my neighbor? Perhaps they came up with a very narrow definition of neighbor.
Anyway, the doctor thought he would justify himself and get out of the jam that Jesus had put him into by asking another question, “Who is my neighbor?” Interestingly, Jesus did not reply, “Well, there are several different Hebraic terms or Greek words used, or there’s a technicality or there’s a geographic reference.”
Instead, Jesus simply told a story to bring home the point of who is my neighbor. Who is this person that God says that I must love? If I love God, I must also love this person. Who is this person?
We read further: “Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him and went away leaving him half dead. Now, by chance, a priest was going down that road and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.’”
Evidently, many of the priests and Levites who served in the temple lived in Jericho, and they traversed back and forth between the city of Jerusalem and Jericho by this road that was quite steep in places and was evidently dangerous and an opportune place for robbers to strike.
So it was not uncommon for a priest or a Levite to be going by. But when the priest went by this man who lay half dead on the side of the road, he avoided him. He went out of his way to go around the man and to ignore him.
We read further: “So likewise, the Levite when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” All right, so now we have two who we might consider holy men, religious men, men of God, who passed by this person on the side of the road and ignored him. Why would they do that?
Well, perhaps they felt like they were coming or going from their religious duties and that to touch a man who might be dead would defile them or make them unclean, and they couldn’t perform their religious duties if they touched such a man.
It’s hard for us to imagine that today – or is it? Would some religious types today, perhaps, pass by such a man on the side of the road? Is it possible that some religious types might feel, “That man probably deserves what he got. He’s a sinner. If I went to help him, I would just be condoning his sins. If he wasn’t such a sinner, he probably wouldn’t be in that situation.”
Or, “He just needs more faith. If he had more faith and trusted God, then God would be blessing him with health and wealth, not allowing him to be beaten like this and lying by the side of the road. I think he’s a sinner, probably got just what he deserved. I’m going to let him lie there and learn his lesson.”
Sometimes, certain religious attitudes interfere with what God calls “loving your neighbor.” But let’s go on in the story and find out what happens next.
But a Samaritan while traveling came near him. And when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them, then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn and took care of him.
The next day, he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, “Take care of him, and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”
Jesus asked, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The doctor of the law had to say, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
What do we learn from this story? Of all the three characters in our story, two of whom were religious folks and one who is seen as a heathen to the Jews, a gentile (even by name calling, such as “gentile dog”), who would one think would be most likely to help someone in need?
In our story, it was not the religious types, whose very religious beliefs and religious system kept them from actually loving their neighbor. Rather, it was someone that the Jews considered an outsider, a pagan, a heathen, someone who had a false religion and false belief system, and yet that person was the one who showed himself to be a neighbor. So what do we learn?
Well, we learn that it’s possible for all people to participate in the shared life of God, because only God is good. What the Samaritan did was a good thing. Jesus holds him out as an example for us of loving your neighbor. In spite of being from even a different religious point of view, a different culture, perhaps a different race, a different ethnicity, but to reach out across cultural and religious lines to show love is a godly thing.
How many times do we go down the road of our life and see people in need? How do we respond? Do we remember this story and realize that no matter who these people are, or what their needs are, and no matter who we are, that it is the shared life of God that should lead us to respond?
How would God feel about the person on the side of the road? Jesus gave his life for those of us who lie battered and bruised at the side of the road. Through the Holy Spirit he goes to those in need, to those who are hurting, to each one of us.
In the story, we’re told to go, and do likewise as the good Samaritan did. When we see people on the side of the road of life, spiritually in need, physically in need, people who are hurting, we should be prepared to go to them, to minister to them, because in so doing, we’re really joining with Jesus Christ, who is already there serving, helping, administering.
In this way, we participate in the ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ to the hurt, to the afflicted, to the needy, to the marginalized, to the oppressed. So as we go through life and we travel down our highways, let’s keep our eyes open for the people by the side of the road who need our help, and let’s be prepared and motivated by the love of God to go and share Jesus Christ and his ministry to those people.
Let’s remember the words of Jesus to the crowd who gathered around him as he told that story and to each one of us today. Let’s remember the story of the Good Samaritan and let’s be ready to go and do likewise.
I'm Dan Rogers with a word from our sponsor.