Please take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Luke 10. Luke 10, our text this morning, verses 25–37. As you’re turning, I would say that of all the things I get to do in connection with RTS, there is no greater joy that I have than to do this. It’s a great privilege to teach and to minister in the context of the classroom, but to minister to you in the context of a worshiping community, this is a joy.
So with that in mind and coming to our text this morning, a text that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this summer, in the light of a range of things in my own life, in our denomination’s life, we come to probably the most familiar parable in all the sayings of Jesus, the parable of the Good Samaritan. But I’m praying this morning that even with our familiarity, we’ll hear it with new ears. But in order for us to do that, we need God’s help. So would you pray with me?
Almighty God, we come now and we ask that you grant us your Holy Spirit. O Holy Spirit, come, open our eyes of faith that we might see glorious riches in this portion of your gospel. Open our ears so that we can hear the text, but more hear the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through Scripture. Open our hearts, Lord, so that we will respond and not just be hearers of the Word, but doers.
O Lord, give us hands and feet ready to live out the reality of what you teach us here. Lord, transform us, by your grace today transform us. We pray it in Jesus’s name, amen.
Luke 10, beginning in verse 25:
On one occasion, an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’“
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (NIV)
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Understanding What It Means to Be a Good Neighbor Gets at the Heart of the Gospel
So my youngest son, Ben, has always loved television commercials. In fact, when he was younger, he would play with his toys on the floor while the television program or the sporting event would be on the television, but as soon as the commercials came on, he would stop what he was doing in order to watch the commercials. He used to drive me crazy. I’d say to him, “Ben, why don’t you pay attention? The Cardinals are on!” He said, “The commercials are more interesting, Dad.”
One of his favorite commercials, still is to this day, was one of the early State Farm commercials. You probably remember it. College students are sitting in their apartment. When a ball comes through the window, they don’t quite know what to do until one of them says, “Don’t worry.” And he sings the jingle, “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” And kazam, the State Farm agent shows up. And then, being college students, they begin to realize there’s something to this. And so they start singing the jingle and they ask for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They ask for the girl from 2B and then finally, he says, “Can I have a hot tub?” Kazam! Ben loved the fact that a hot tub showed up.
It was a great commercial, but it was great because of what it was trying to tell you, that in times of need when there was a disaster that struck, you could count on good neighbors like State Farm being there. In the same way that a neighbor would be with you in a time of need, so State Farm. Of course, those who lived through Katrina on the coast might have other questions about that. But the message is what’s important, right? They were able to play off the idea that like good neighbors, State Farm would be there.
You know, there’s a sense in which we read this text just that way, as though what Jesus is trying to tell us is similar to what State Farm Insurance is trying to sell us, that in times of need and difficulty, we need to be like this Good Samaritan and be with people in their time of extreme need.
We naturally want to limit our circles of care. As a result of the fall, we naturally want to to narrow those circles of compassion.And, you know, as far as it goes, that is right. That is at least part of what this text is trying to tell us. However, I want to suggest to you this morning, this text goes deeper than that. It pushes you farther than that because it is inviting you to consider more than “who is my neighbor?” It’s inviting you to consider more than those rare times every once in a while where you might actually be put out of your way to risk yourself for someone else. I think it’s actually calling you and me down to the very heart of what Christianity is all about. I think it’s actually trying to challenge you to think through what it means to know the good life, to know eternal life, life from the age to come that comes to those who trust in Jesus.
What does it mean to love God with our entire being? What does it really mean to love our neighbor as ourselves? What does it mean to know Jesus? And here’s the deal: in the midst of all that you and I can’t be good neighbors.
We naturally want to limit our circles of care. As a result of the fall, we naturally want to to narrow those circles of compassion. We would include certainly our families in those, our closest friends, perhaps most of the people in our church, and perhaps a few people in our neighborhood. But we naturally want to limit our circles of care, which means in the light of this text, we can’t be good neighbors because what Jesus is going to do is blow up your circles of care. He’s going to redefine for you not just what it means to love your neighbor. I’m going to suggest to you this morning he’s going to redefine for you what it means to love God.
Because for those who know the good life through faith in this good savior named Jesus, there’s a whole different way of being a good neighbor. Jesus is not simply providing us an example here. He’s not telling us to go be like the Good Samaritan. He’s actually pointing us to the heart of the gospel itself. Because at the end of the day, what he desperately wants for you and me, he wants us to experience the good life.
A Lawyer Asks About Inheriting Eternal Life to Justify Himself
I mean, the text opens with a lawyer and probably every good story following John Grisham begins with a lawyer. But this lawyer shows up not by accident. Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, places this story here because he’s using this lawyer as an example. In our Bibles, if you have an ESV or NIV, there is a division marker: “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.” That’s what’s in my Bible. That, of course, is not there in the original. What just happened a few verses before? Well, Jesus prays to the Father, “Father, I thank you that you’ve not revealed these things to the insiders, to the wise and the intelligent. I thank you that you revealed them to the outsiders.” And then he blesses his disciples and says, Guess what, guys? You’re the outsiders. You were getting to see what prophets didn’t get to see, what the insiders didn’t get to see. It’s not the wise and the intelligent who get it. It’s outsiders like these disciples.
Jesus is not simply providing us an example here. He’s not telling us to go be like the Good Samaritan. He’s actually pointing us to the heart of the gospel itself.And then, if to prove the point, here comes this lawyer. And this lawyer has a particular question about the nature of the good life, the nature of eternal life, life from the age to come. But this question isn’t an innocent question, is it? He’s not a seeker. He’s wanting to put Jesus to the test. He wants to challenge him. In verse 25, “On one occasion, an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.” He wants to challenge him. He wants to reveal Jesus as a fraud, as not in step with what the rest of the first-century rabbis were teaching. And so he asks him this question. The question that’s at the very heart of Second Temple Judaism: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Now our Protestant ears perk up, right? We’ve learned enough Martin Luther to know you can’t do anything to inherit eternal life. And so we want to rule the question out of bounds right at the beginning. But it’s striking Jesus doesn’t do that. In fact, this question is going to show up again. Luke 18:18, in the story concerning the rich young ruler, he’s going to ask the same question. Jesus doesn’t rebuke the question. Rather, he simply asks the teacher of the law, this lawyer, “Well, how do you read the law?”
And he tells him, verse 27. “And he answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.’“
So what is the way to the good life? What is the way to eternal life? What is the way to the life of the age to come? The lawyer answers with the Shema from Deuteronomy 6: “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one. Love him with your entire being.” And then Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And it’s striking. Jesus doesn’t say, you get it wrong, did he? No, what does he say, verse 28: “You have answered correctly,” and then with a version of Leviticus 18:5, “Do this and you will live.”
Do this perfectly and you will live. If you love God with your entire being and you do that perfectly and you love your neighbor as yourself perfectly you will, in fact, inherit the good life. Now, of course, it’s one thing to interpret the law correctly. It’s an entirely different thing to live it perfectly. But that doesn’t stop the lawyer, does it? He doesn’t ask Jesus a question about what it means to love God. He says, I’ve got that. I’ve got loving God with all my mind, all my strength, all my soul. I’ve got loving God with my entire being. I’ve got that down.
No, he wants to ask a question about what it means to be a good neighbor. Why does he do that? Why does he want to ask a question about that second part, love your neighbor as yourself? What’s his motivation? Well, verse 29 tells you he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” He’s bent on self-justification. He wants to be able to assert that he is, in fact, righteous in the eyes of the law, that he is, in fact, one who has a claim to inherit eternal life, who has a claim to inherit the good life. “I already know,” he says, “I love God perfectly with my whole being. And so I’m trying to narrow my circle of care. I’m trying to narrow my circle of compassion. I’m trying to figure out who are the insiders that I need to love so that I can then rightly claim and have assurance and confidence that I have a right to the good life.”
And in doing that, he’s in line with what first-century rabbis taught. Contemporary teachers taught that Jews were to love the sons of light and hate all the sons of darkness. And if you do good, know those to whom you do it and do not help the sinner. And even Jesus, as he’s summarizing what contemporary teachers taught on this matter in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, 5:43, what did he say? “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’“
And so this lawyer has a view of the world that limits his circle of care, limits his circle of compassion to those to whom he believes he has an obligation to love: his family, his friends, perhaps his fellow Jews. But he has insiders and he has outsiders. Those who are in his circle of caring and compassion and those who are outside of it. And he desperately wants Jesus to agree with him, to say, at the end of the day, you have answered correctly.
But Jesus doesn’t, does he?
Jesus Tells a Story That Revolutionizes What It Means to Be a Neighbor
No. In fact, Jesus’s reply to the question is a revolution. It’s a bomb. Because what Jesus is going to do is he’s going to redefine the question. Not “who is my neighbor?” but “who is acting like a neighbor?” Not “who is the outsider?” but “who’s identifying with the one in need?”
And he redefines, he works this revolution, he drops this bomb by telling this story, this most, most familiar story in all the New Testament. He tells the story about a man going down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and going down is the right way of putting it. It’s an 18-mile journey, 3,300 feet of elevation loss, a twisty, turny road with lots of crags in it where robbers can hide. And sure enough, as this man’s going down the road, a gang of robbers appear. And Jesus tells us what happens. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.
Now we run by that language. Use your sanctified imagination. This man has been pulled off his donkey. His saddlebags had been rifled through. The money has been taken. The robbers have taken his clothes and rip them off of him. They’ve taken a cudgel and they’ve beaten him. They’ve left him for half dead. He’s lying in a pool of blood there on the road. He’s drifting in and out of consciousness. Has he been lying there for minutes? Has he been lying there for hours? He doesn’t know. But perhaps in one of those moments of coming to consciousness, he opens his eyes and through the slits, he sees a man coming. Is it another robber? No, it’s a priest. It’s a priest coming from his temple duties, a priest who’s undoubtedly just recited the Shema and recited the law: Love the Lord, your God with your whole being. Love your neighbor as yourself. “Surely this priest will stop and help me,” he thinks.”
Except he doesn’t. He came. He saw. He passed by.
He drifts back out of consciousness. Again, minutes, hours, not sure. But as he opens his eyes again, here comes another man and he sees by his clothing, it’s a Levite. He has theological education. He went to seminary, he learned Hebrew. He knows the law inside and out, he can count all the letters. He may not be as high class as the priest, but he still knows God’s Word and what God demands of him: to love God and love his neighbor as himself. Surely this Levite will stop and help me.
But he doesn’t. He came. He saw. And he passed by.
Why did these men not stop to help? Jesus doesn’t attribute a motive, does he?He doesn’t get inside their heads. He doesn’t even tell you, well, they’re concerned about ritual purity or they had a pot roast in the oven. They had to get home. He doesn’t get into that, does he? No. He just simply reports the fact that these religious people, these theologically trained people, the pastors of the people: they came. They saw. They pass by.
But don’t miss it. They left the man to die. They left him to die.
And then third man comes. And notice the difference, verse 33, “But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.” He showed him compassion.
The other two men came and saw and passed by. This Samaritan, this religious other this racial other, this filthy man, this pagan. He stopped and had compassion.
And as the lawyer is listening to Jesus telling this story, at this point, his skin begins to crawl, because if there was one person, if he was the dying man, that he would not have wanted to help him, it was this kind of man, this kind of racial other, this kind of religious other, this kind of unclean other. I would not want him to help me. In fact, if he was the last person in the world to help me, I would not want him to stop. That’s what the lawyer’s thinking.
And that’s who stops. That’s who came and saw and had compassion. This pagan identified with the man in his need. He put himself in the other man’s shoes. He saw that he was the one who is needy. The Samaritan was in that same place. He identifies and he stops and acts. He goes over to the man, he binds up his wounds. He takes out oil and wine: wine is an antiseptic, oil to soothe his wounds. He picks the man up by himself, lays him on the donkey. He walks down the road and leads the man behind him on the donkey. Is this the beginning of the journey? Is this toward the end of the journey? We’re not sure how long he has to walk, but he leads the man to another dangerous place.
An inn, not dangerous because of robbers, but dangerous because of the innkeeper who makes his money through graft and thievery. And this man spends the night with him to care for him to make sure that he’s going to be okay. And then when he leaves, he gives the innkeeper two days’ worth of work. The denarius is the day wage for a common laborer. So he gives two days’ worth of work to the innkeeper and says, “By the way, if he runs up any other tab, I’m going to put myself at risk”—Of course the innkeeper can take advantage of him, right? The innkeeper can write up whatever he wants—“But if he runs up any other tab, I will pay it.”
He’s willing to involve himself to such a level of risk, financial risk, he’s willing to involve himself in the mess in order to help this man.
Now, ask yourself, if you were this man, this man who is half-dead, naked, stripped, beaten, lying in his pool of blood. And this Samaritan, the last person in the world who he may have wanted to help him, helped him. Was he his neighbor? Yeah, of course. And that’s where Jesus ends. “‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ And the expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ And Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”
And so who was the good neighbor? He was the one who had compassion. The one who could put himself in the other person’s shoes.
Jesus Says There Are No Limits to Our Circle of Care
And Jesus is saying to you and me, as those who have experienced the good life, who’ve come to know eternal life, life from the age to come that’s invaded the present through faith in Jesus, as those who know the good life, he says to you and me that there are no limits on your circle of care. There are no limits to your circle of compassion. He has dropped a bomb and blown up those walls. That’s the revolution he offers you. Because the question isn’t, who is my neighbor? The question really is, as those who’ve come to know the good life through Jesus Christ, are you willing to be the good neighbor to whomever is in your path?
There are no limits to your circle of compassion. [Jesus] has dropped a bomb and blown up those walls.So I want to ask you a question this morning: who’ve you put outside your circle of care? Who is outside that circle of compassion? I mean you have your insiders and your outsiders, right? We all do. Your family, your close friends, people in your church, people in your neighborhood, they’re in the inner circle. And then you have the outsiders: who have you put outside the circle?
Who is your enemy? The son of darkness? Now, let’s be honest this morning, if we were to sit here and say, “I don’t have any enemies.” Right, that’s our natural reaction. “Oh, Sean, there’s no one I’d put outside my circle of care.”
I sat in a Sunday school class at our church a couple of weeks ago, and they were talking about Matthew 5, Love Your Enemies. And that was one of the things they said, “Considered in the abstract, I don’t have any enemies! I don’t have anyone outside my circle care.”
To whom have you shut your heart? On whom have you refused to have compassion? In whose shoes have you refused to stand?I’m not going to let you off the hook. I want to push you a little bit further. To whom have you shut your heart? On whom have you refused to have compassion? In whose shoes have you refused to stand? Have you refused to stand in the shoes of the poor man who doesn’t have the education or skills to get a job? Have you refused to stand in the shoes of the lady whose house is falling down around her. She doesn’t have the money to fix the roof. Her neighborhood is filled with drug dealers who’ve come down from Jackson to Hattiesburg and they are just wreaking havoc. She’s afraid to go outside. The black couple that is experiencing significant health difficulties because they don’t know how to navigate the incredibly complex health system that they find in this country.
Perhaps it’s the 15-year-old who has grown up in a family with four different fathers in the house, one mother, and because of the hopelessness that pervades his family’s system he sees no other way out but to turn to a life of sex and alcohol and drugs because there’s no hope. Or the 14-year-old girl who’s in the public school system, in a school where there are more children who are parents than parents of those children involved in the school. And she wonders, “How am I going to get out of here? How am I going to succeed?”
Have you refused to stand in the shoes of the married couple, married doctors, both 52, who have all the money and all the toys that you possibly imagine, the house on the lake, the boat, the house in Seaside. They’ve got all the money they could possibly need or want. And yet they have a 16-year-old son who is trapped in an alcohol addiction. And all the money of the world cannot solve or fix the problem.
Or perhaps you refuse to stand in the shoes of a woman who’s in an abusive marriage, who continues to love him, though he hits her, who doesn’t have the skills or the knowledge to go somewhere else. She doesn’t know where to take her two small children. There is no safe place for her.
All these people come at some level, with details changed, from 15 years of ordained ministry. And if we were to go around the room and take the time, you would each share elements of brokenness. Nate Ruess in his new album, The Grand Romantic, has a song called “Harsh Light” and the chorus is “we all have scars.”
In whose shoes do you refuse to stand? Are these outside your circles of care? Are you willing to hear what Jesus is saying? There is no them. There really is only us. If you were in these people’s shoes, if people were to know your situation, wouldn’t you want someone to show compassion on you? Wouldn’t you want someone to come, and to see, and to stop? And to say, “I don’t know what to do, but I love you, and I’m here.” Wouldn’t you want someone to dive into the mess with you, to put themselves at risk for you?
Of course you would. You would want someone to live out Jesus’s words, “Whatever you wish that others would do for you, do so for them. For thus you fulfill the law and the prophets.” You would want that.
We Are Not Good Neighbors, but Jesus Is the Best Neighbor to Us All
So why do we fail to do that? Why do I fail to do that? I’m in position in a caring profession. It’s my job. Why do I pull back? Why do you pull back and limit your circle of care? Well, I think it’s because we can’t do it. We can’t be good neighbors.
Unless we have eyes, eyes that can see, eyes that can see not just the people in need, but they can actually see the Good Savior. Because the power in this text, what motivates us in this text, is not really the behavior of the Good Samaritan. At the end of the day, this text does not come to us and say, “Rejoice, be like the Good Samaritan, go and do,” because there’s no gospel power in that for us.
Now, what motivates us from this text is the realization that Jesus, the Good Savior, he actually did this when we failed to do this again and again and again. When we limit our circles of care again and again and again, when we have insiders and outsiders, people we’ll care for and people we won’t, Jesus didn’t do that. No, Jesus actually came and saw and had compassion. And he had compassion on you and me, people who are profoundly needy. You may not have realized that. You may think, “I’m a seminarian, I’m not needy.” No, actually, you have been and you continue to be profoundly needy. I mean, consider your condition before you came to Christ. You weren’t half-dead like this man on the side of the road. You were all the way dead. That’s what Ephesians 2 tells you, that you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked. Not only that, you were God’s enemy. Romans 5:6–10 uses language like, “you were ungodly,” verse six, “you were sinners,” verse 8, “you were enemies,” verse 10. Your condition was one of profound and incredible need, but God doesn’t simply see and walk on by, does he? No! The word became flash and tabernacled among us. He walked among us and he came and he saw and he had compassion. He had compassion not on enemies in general, not on people in general, he had compassion on you.
If you doubt that Jesus loves you, look at the cross. That’s how much he loves you.And Jesus extends himself not by paying for a couple of nights stay at the Holiday Inn, but extends himself all the way to his own dying, taking upon himself the form of a servant, becoming obedient to death, even the death of the cross. He does so in such a way to show you what compassion looks like. If you doubt that Jesus loves you, look at the cross. That’s how much he loves you. That’s how far Jesus was willing to identify with you in your need.
Not people in general, not for you in general, but for you with your name on it.
He had compassion on Charlie, and he came and saw Charlie, and extended himself to that extent for a sinner named Charlie and Sean and Ligon and put your name in it. That’s what the Good Savior has done. He came, he saw he had compassion.
Jesus’s Love Transforms Us to Expand Our Circles of Care
And as we trust in Jesus and as we sit at his feet and as we’re sustained by his Word, as the next text will tell you in Luke 10, as we are being transformed by this gospel, what we find must happen is that our circles of care become as wide as God’s mercy, as wide as his mercy, so that as we go down the pathway of life on our roads to Jericho, we have to see all those we come across, not just in the world out there, but with one another, every one we come across, we see them as those who are dying. And we say, “Jesus had compassion on me. How can I do any less?”
And you know what? When the world sees that, when the world sees you and me not limiting our circles of care to those who are our family, our friends, our congregates, Republicans, whatever you want to put in the circle. When the world sees us blow open our circles of care so they’re as wide as the mercy of God they won’t say, “Oh, so that’s what it looks like to be a good neighbor.” No. They’ll say, “Oh, that’s what it looks like to love God.”
Please pray with me: Almighty God, we confess we have failed. We confess that we cannot do this. But we also know that Jesus did as the Good Savior. And by trusting in you, you give us a good life, life of the age to come. And you enable us to be good neighbors. And so, Lord Jesus, I pray that you would give us today eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts to believe, and hands and feet willing to do the gospel. We pray in Jesus’s name, amen.