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Luke 10:29 (Lev 19)
This morning, as we look at Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, we will learn the answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Then we will see from the parable and from our reading from Leviticus, what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves.
The man who came to test Jesus asked what he had to do to have eternal life. Jesus pointed him to the Scriptures. He asked this man who claimed to be an expert in the law, a person who knew the Old Testament Scriptures very well, what he had learned from his studies. The man showed himself to be very knowledgeable. He quoted what is a perfect summary of the will of God reflected in the 10 Commandments, one which Jesus himself has used on other occasions; Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself. He knew the correct answer, so why was he asking Jesus about it? Jesus made that clear with his next statement. You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.
Do this and you will live, that’s really where the man’s question lay. His conscience told him that he had not done these things. No matter how hard he tried, he knew there were people he didn’t love and didn’t treat in a very loving way. He was looking for Jesus to give him a way quiet his conscience. So he asked the question, who is my neighbor? He was hoping that those he didn’t love and had not treated in a very loving way weren’t really his neighbors and therefore he would not be guilty of breaking the command to love his neighbor.
I’m sure there have been times in your life when you were hoping for the same thing. There are people you don’t want to have to love; people who have hurt you with unkind words; people who have tried to take advantage of you; people who cut you off in traffic; maybe the Muslim who lives next door who gets extra breaks and concessions at work that you don’t get. I’m sure you can add to the list, or even have someone in mind when I mention people you might not want to love. Like this expert in the law, our conscience tells us that there are people that we don’t love, have not loved, as ourselves. Like this man we want to justify ourselves by thinking that maybe they aren’t really our neighbors, so we don’t really have to love them.
Who is my neighbor? Jesus answered with the parable of the Good Samaritan. He talked about a man who was robbed and beaten and left for dead. That was bad enough, but both a priest and a Levite saw him lying there bleeding, in need of help, and both of them looked the other way. They didn’t stop and render aid. Finally, another man came along. He did stop and render aid. He tended to the man’s wounds. He transported him to the nearest inn, and even paid the inn keeper to let him have a room while he healed. And then Jesus drives his point home. He, the man who stopped to render aid, was a Samaritan, someone who would have had every reason to not only look the other way and keep going, but even to mock him, or kick him while he was down because of the way this injured man’s countrymen had often treated him.
What is the point of Jesus’ parable? You know. Everyone, even those we might consider our enemies, even those who have hurt us, or mistreated us; everyone is our neighbor. No excuses. No wiggle room. If there is anyone you haven’t loved; if there is anyone you have not treated well, then you have not loved your neighbor as yourself, or loved the Lord your God with all your heart. You have not done what you need to do to have eternal life. You deserve to have God treat you the way you have treated them- to look the other way, to let you get what you deserve for your lack of love.
But God is not like the priest and the Levite. God is love. When he saw us beaten and robbed by sin and Satan, left by them to die and be eternally condemned, he didn’t look the other way and leave us to suffer now and forever. He had compassion on us who were his enemies. When he saw that we neither loved him above all things, nor did we love our neighbor as ourselves, he sent Jesus to help us. Throughout his life Jesus demonstrated that he loved God and his neighbor perfectly. He even prayed that the Father would forgive those who had lied about him, spit on him, whipped and crucified him. He had the Father give him the punishment that they, and we, deserve for not loving God above all things or our neighbor as ourselves. He made him who knew no sin to be sin for us. By his wounds we have been healed. Whenever we are robbed and beaten by sin and Satan he comes to us. He binds up our wounds with the healing salve of forgiveness. He sends Christians, (like the Samaritan, and Inn keeper) to make sure that we have what we need to recover from the wounds we received from the attacks of Satan and from our own foolish choices. Through the gospel in word and sacrament he strengthens us to go about our lives showing others the same kind of love that he has shown us.
What does that look like? What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? God gives us many practical examples. Jesus’ parable suggests that loving your neighbor as yourself means realizing that helping a person in need is more important that carrying out a duty at God’s house, even if that person in need is your enemy.
In our reading fromLeviticus, God suggests that loving your neighbor as yourself means not trying to keep every penny for yourself, but to use some of what is yours to care for the poor. It means making sure that you don’t take advantage of others by lying about what something is worth and enriching yourself at their expense. It means making sure that you pay someone what you owe them promptly. It means not bullying or making fun of others, especially those with a handicap. It means applying the laws of God and man without being swayed by their appearance, importance, or lack of it. It means, as Luther put it so well, taking the words and actions of others in the kindest possible way and never saying anything about them that would harm their reputation, even if it might be true. It means not holding a grudge or seeking revenge against those who have hurt you or sinned against you.
Take your service folder home and take some time this week to read the lesson from Leviticus 19 a few more times. Let it guide you in what you say on social media. Let it guide you in the way you think and act toward others. Let it remind you of what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.
If you were following along in Leviticus as I summarized what those verses say, you might have noticed that there was one verse near the end that I skipped over. I wanted to especially highlight that verse because most people today would say that it doesn’t describe a way to love your neighbor. Verse 17 says you shall not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. You must openly rebuke your fellow citizen so that you do not become responsible for his sin.
That doesn’t sound loving, does it? To rebuke someone means to point out their sin, to tell them that they are doing something that God says is sinful. Most people today, including our neighbors sitting next to us this morning, would say, “Who are you to judge me? You are just as much a sinner as I am.” And there is an element of truth to that. We are just as much a sinner as anyone else. So how is it that God can say if we fail to rebuke our neighbor, we are not loving them as ourselves?
A lot has to do with attitude, and with understanding the seriousness of sin. If your attitude is like the Pharisee in the temple that you are so much better than the other person, that you would never commit the sin they are committing, that’s not love. Our attitude must always be humility- that we are just as sinful as they are, but that we want them to see how dangerous sin is so that we can share the good news of forgiveness in Jesus with them.
God says that failing to warn your neighbor, especially your fellow Christian of sin, makes you bear some responsibility if they remain unrepentant and end up in Hell. Think of it this way. If there is a dangerous pit on your property and you fail to put up a fence and warning signs and someone falls into the pit and is seriously injured, everyone would agree that you bear some responsibility, even if they were trespassing. It’s even more true when it comes to warning people about the pit of Hell. When you understand the seriousness of sin you understand that warning people about their sinful choices, when done in humility, is one of the most loving things you can do for your neighbor.
Who is your neighbor? Everyone is your neighbor, even those who hurt you. God says we are to love all people, even our enemies, as ourselves. How do we do that? By remembering that we were God’s enemies, and while we were still sinners, Jesus loved us enough to live and die in our place. The more we focus on what God has done for us in Jesus the more we will be enabled to love our neighbor as ourselves.