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Message for Sunday 14 July 2019: “You’re My Neighbor”

Today there’s a wonderful episode known as the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The story begins with an encounter between Jesus and a Jewish religious specialist who asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10: 25). This monumental question hangs over the history of Christianity and many other faiths.

Jesus responded to the man’s question by first asking one of his own:  “What is written in the law?  What do you read there?” (Luke 10:26). The man replied correctly, affirming the need to love God with all the heart, soul and mind and to love neighbor as self. Jesus replied, “Do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28). Jesus and that man seem to be exchanging a productive course of questioning followed by a decisive answer. So far there’s a captivating dialogue wherein Jesus affirms the supremacy of loving God with a person’s total being. Could this be the end of the story? Hold on to your pew because the plot thickens.

On the one hand, the man’s answer to Jesus is vital because it reveals the key to eternal life, the gist of what God wants and the crux of the Christian faith. On the other hand, the man’s response is not as sincere as it first appeared. Jesus knew that the man wanted to justify himself and avoid putting his words into action. After all, it’s easy to speak good intentions but often challenging to accomplish real-world action. Also, the man’s answer was incomplete because it hadn’t been tested and demonstrated. All of this complicates what at first seemed like an open-and-shut topic.

Although the religious specialist had answered Jesus’ question correctly, the man didn’t want to practice what he said he believed. The man attempted to dodge the responsibility of helping others in the real world. Unfortunately, the man attempted to squirm out of truly loving God and his neighbor.  “Who is my neighbor?” the man asked, in a futile attempt to find a loophole in the requirement to love his neighbor (Luke 10:29).

Jesus responded to the man’s avoidance by creating the parable of the Good Samaritan, an illustration of what love may require. Jesus described a situation of a person who, through no fault of his own, had been robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the side of a road. Both a Jewish priest and a person from the elitist tribe of Levi saw the injured man from a distance. Unfortunately, both men tried to ignore the victim by walking to the other side from where the stricken man lay. To their shame, both of the religious hypocrites avoided the injured man and neither demonstrated compassion (which is love in action).

The third person to encounter the beaten crime victim was a Samaritan, a member of a despised class that Jews hated because of an ancient grudge about mixed-ethnic marriage. Many Jews considered Samaritans half-breeds, those who centuries earlier had become intermarried by conquerors. So hated were the Samaritans that Jesus used the issue to illustrate irony in that the Samaritan was the only person among the three passers-by who stopped to help the injured man.

The Samaritan went above and beyond expectations by not only treating the victim’s wounds but also by giving money to provide for the man’s recovery at a nearby inn. Sadly, those two high-status, ethnically pure Jews (the priest and the Levite) shamed themselves by ignoring their duty to help a bleeding man left in the dirt. Jesus’ point is that the despised Samaritan was more righteous, more loving than the Jews who were supposedly God’s chosen people.

Love isn’t easy. Love is often costly, messy, and consuming of time and effort. For followers of God, love is life’s purpose and nothing is greater in your pursuit of eternal life or anything else of lasting value. God invites all of us to the joyful responsibility of loving God by loving others, and of loving others by loving God. The relationship goes in both directions such that a person can’t claim they love God if they don’t demonstrate love for other people.

Neighbors are more than just those living within your housing subdivision, your apartment, below or above you in the city high-rise, or next door to your attached condominium. Neighbors are not limited to members of your tribe, ethnic group, or to those sharing your political or economic convictions. Neighbors are all persons with whom you and I share a common humanity; that includes everyone.

As Christians, we are obligated to make our faith real by the way we treat others. Whether we be liberal or conservative, no amount of theology or politics will substitute for putting love into action. To avoid a disastrous hypocrisy receive and share God’s love, which makes your faith genuine, powerful and relevant.  We can all strive to become a Good Samaritan by the way we put faith into action by compassionate love.

–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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