November 11, 2018 | Andrew Crosby
Who is my neighbor?
“Who is my neighbor” is such an interesting question. As an introvert, and just as a selfish person, I get where the expert is coming from with this question. What is the minimal amount of love and human interaction I have to give? That’s one of the best things about having kids; I have a built-in excuse to get me out of almost anything. Gee, I’d love to, but…the kids. It’s amazing.
And now that you’ve lost all respect for me let’s look deeper at this passage.
The expert answers the questions perfectly. Love God with your all and love your neighbor as yourself. If he could have lived with that answer and the ambiguity that comes with it, he would have been fine. But he couldn’t. He needed to nail it down. And really, as the scripture says, “he wanted to justify himself.”
But there’s something more going on behind his question. He’s looking for who is in and who is out. What kind of people do I have to love, and what kind am I okay looking past. It’s a question of religious obligation. He wants to know the minimum amount of love required. Does this love of neighbor extend to just those who are like me or does it go to those I consider other?
The expert in the law had position, status, and knowledge that gave him the respect of others. His place in the religious structure was secure. He knew the right answers and could justify his life and his actions based on his knowledge and position.
It’s so easy for us to justify ourselves and our lack of love. – That’s me.
What he’s really asking is “How far should love reach?” or Who is worthy of my love and compassion.
Are you ever tempted to ask that question? Are you trying to draw lines to see who is worthy of you love and who can be excluded?
Don’t avoid the hurting.
Priest and Levite are characters which would have caused a reaction from the hearer. These were people like the expert in the law. He would identify with them and see himself in these characters.
They were unwilling to help with the immediate need because it wasn’t required of them. It wasn’t part of their obligation. And since it wasn’t required by the religious system they were unwilling to lower themselves to this need.
They weren’t willing to help if it meant they had to let go of their position, their status, their security, their money, or their time.
That’s me. Most of the time that’s where I fall. It’s gonna cost too much to show compassion here. I’m pretty comfortable with the way things are going, and I might have to give up a lot.
It’s not just the individual characters that Jesus is examining in this story. This parable puts the established religion to the test. He is asking this expert in the law to evaluate his own life, but also to evaluate his religious system.
This is something that I need to hear, and that we as a church need to hear. If my personal life lacks compassion, I need to fix that. I need to come before God, repent, and move forward with the eyes and heart of Christ.
And if our religious system lacks compassion, we have to acknowledge that and move forward with the boundless love of Christ. Jesus is showing us that a religion that ignores the need, turns away from hurt, and justifies a lack of love and mercy misses the point.
Jesus is calling this expert away from his justification of who’s in and who’s out and calling him into the radical and limitless love of God.
Matthew 5:46-48 says, "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Christ is moving us to a love that goes beyond reciprocity and merit. It’s a love that models the humility of Christ who didn’t hold onto what he deserved but chose to let it go.
Show Compassion. Do Likewise.
And then we have the Samaritan. The outsider, the unworthy, the despised. Can you taste the bitterness in your mouth that this would have created for the Expert? Not only are you called to love beyond those borders that you’ve created. But the ones who are outside of those borders, if they show compassion, if they put into practice the teaching of Christ, they are the neighbor.
What good is knowing if you don’t do it. Knowledge without practice is of no use.
Now, I’m not a carpenter or skilled craftsman, but I love to do little projects and work with power tools. My dad got me a great little drill set about a year ago and I love it. But before that I had this drill set that was okay, but I ruined it. Because I just do little projects here and there I wasn’t using them regularly. And I left them plugged into the charger for weeks and weeks. And it ruined the battery. It no longer holds a charge and it has way less power than it used to. You might get 5 minutes use out of it but that’s it.
That can happen to us too. We can spend so much time plugged in without being used that we just burn up. We can burn up if we spend all of our time connected to the charger without doing what we’ve been called to do.
We have so many faithful volunteers in this church. Volunteers who teach small groups, serve on committees, lead choir, etc. And we have so many faithful volunteers in that Care Effect that serve week after week. I worry sometimes that our volunteers are going to get burned out. But if we get burned out doing what we’ve been called to do I can live with that. I just don’t want to get burned out from sitting unused for too long.
Jesus is teaching the expert that his knowledge alone is useless. It has to be lived out.
“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.” – Henri J.M. Nouwen
The Samaritan’s compassion risks more than would be required or expected. There’s a difference between obligation and love. What the Samaritan does is not rooted in moral obligation, but in an active love.
This church practices compassion. We don’t always get it right individually, or as a whole, but the words of Jesus call us to compassion. So, we go into the city each week through Care Effect. We go to places of hurt and seek to be the hands and feet of Jesus in those places. We want to be a church that goes to the hurt and doesn’t hide from it.
John Perkins is a minister who is a 88 years old. He’s civil rights hero, a catalyst for urban missions, and a champion for racial reconciliation. He was at NOBTS chapel a few weeks ago, and shared about his conversion experience. He didn’t grow up in the church, and because of his life circumstances and growing up poor and black in the south he never considered that God could love him. His son started going to Good News Club after school and one day he came home singing “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red, brown, yellow, black and white they are precious in his sight Jesus loves the little children of the world. John Perkins had never considered that God could love him until he heard his son sing those words. Someone took the time to teach his son, show him that he had value and we precious to God, and John Perkins was changed by that love.
That is what our Global Impact Sunday is about. It is our commitment to Pray, Give, and Go so that we can share the love, hope, and compassion of Jesus with a hurting world. So, when you sing with a child, when you travel to Zimbabwe, when you serve a warm meal to a stranger, when you teach English to an immigrant, when you pack food for a hungry child, when you make eye contact, when you listen; When you do any kind act with the great love of Christ you are showing that person that they matter, that they are precious, and that they are deeply loved by a God who chose to come close to us and dwell among us.
When the expert asks the question “Who is my neighbor”, he is not looking for who he needs to love, but rather who he can get away with not loving. He’s looking to draw clear lines between who is worthy and unworthy, who is in and who is out, who is worth my time and who can be cast aside.
The story that Jesus tells destroys this question. There is nothing left to the questions’ premise because loving your neighbor has no boundaries. Yes You are the God who is simple, direct, clear with us and for us. You have committed yourself to us. You have said yes to us in creation yes to us in our birth, yes to us in our baptism, yes to us in our awakening this day. But we are of another kind, more accustomed to ''perhaps, maybe, we'll see,'' left in wonderment and ambiguity. We live our lives not back to your yes , but out of our endless ''perhaps.'' So, we pray for your mercy this day that we may live yes back to you, yes with our time, yes with our money, yes with our strength and with our weakness, yes to our neighbor, yes and no longer ''perhaps.'' In the name of your enfleshed yes to us, even Jesus who is our yes into your future. Amen.