Who Is My Neighbor? - The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
[Luke 10:25-37] And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
Who Is My Neighbor?
The lawyer in today’s Gospel stands up and asks Jesus, first, what question? He asks, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Was it a sincere question? It was not. The text says that the lawyer asked Jesus this question “to put Jesus to the test”.
“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?”, Jesus asks him in return, “How do you read it?”
The lawyer – an expert in the Law – gives the Law’s answer: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind – and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus, who is the Lord God, and who clearly is not loved by this man, answers: You are right. “Do this, and you will live.”
Brothers and sisters, if you kept the Law you would indeed obtain eternal life by the Law. It is, in fact, the one who loves God with his whole heart, mind, soul, and strength – and who loves his neighbor as himself – who inherits eternal life. But is that you? Is it me? Will it ever be you by time you die?
The lawyer who asked the question knows what about himself? He knows, in his conscience, that there are certain neighbors he has not loved. Therefore, desiring to justify himself, he asks further, “and who is my neighbor?”
Jesus brought this lawyer’s conscience to the realization that he has not kept the Law’s requirement to love every kind of neighbor. The lawyer then seeks to redefine who his neighbor is.
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Who is my neighbor? Christ tells the lawyer a parable which shows him and me and you that our neighbor is whoever needs our mercy. Your neighbor is whoever needs your mercy, whoever that is.
And Jesus teaches us, by this parable, not to ask, “Are those people my neighbor”, but instead to ask, “Am I being a neighbor to them.”
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho”, Jesus says, “and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, 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. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.”
A man was lying bloody and possibly dead. The priest and the Levite pass by on the other side of the road. We’re not told what their reasons are. If could be that touching what, by all appearances, might be a corpse would make them ceremonially unclean and unfit to carry out their services in the Temple. Thus, they failed to keep the weightier matters of God’s Law.
Or, perhaps they were busy or running late. Maybe they said, “What could I do anyways?” Maybe they thought that man should have kept himself safe – it was his own responsibility. Maybe they only help those who help themselves. Or, maybe they would have helped if that man had been a fellow Levite – part of their own tribe and clan.
Or, perhaps, the fact that they passed by on the other side simply shows that they did not care enough to do any different. They would not go out of their way to help. But they did go out of their way – crossed to the other side – to avoid helping.
We go out of our way with our excuses. But, in truth, regardless of what reasons we give, the fact that we so often don’t help others shows simply that we don’t care enough to do so. That’s the truth. We fail to love certain neighbors as ourselves because we truly don’t love them as ourselves. It’s sin, and it’s true of each of us.
God’s Law – to love God and to love my neighbor – is a mirror which shows me my true measure. And the true measure is that you and I are lacking in true Godly love. By that measure, I cannot inherit eternal life.
Our neighbor is whoever needs our mercy and help – the help of giving them aid; the help of giving them God’s Word. Who in the parable had mercy and gave help?
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’
And then Jesus asked, “Who proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?” This Samaritan in the parable is the one who had compassion on the man who needed mercy and therefore proved to be a neighbor to him. The Samaritan healed the man, bound up his wounds, carried his weight, and paid the price for him in the inn. Who are you not being a neighbor to? Who needs your mercy and you are passing them by?
God’s Law condemns us on this point. And, though we strive to do better, it will condemn us still. God’s Law shows us that we ourselves are now the ones who are in need of mercy.
Worse than any robber, our sinful and selfish nature leaves us beat-up and left more than half dead. The two great commands of the Law pass us by in regards to salvation – they help us none. What we need is not a Law to keep but a Savior to show us mercy.
The one man who has kept the Law is also the one man who shows us that mercy. Jesus, God’s Son and man’s Savior, is the only man who has kept the Law to love God with all His strength, heart, mind, and soul, and to love His neighbor as Himself. You, bludgeoned by sin, are that neighbor in need whom Jesus has helped.
Jesus is the good Samaritan to you. He has not passed you by but has picked you up.
Jesus, on the cross, paid the price for you. He took up your sin, your wounds, your uncleanness, and even your death and made them His own burdens to bear. And Jesus carried the weight of the whole Law to save those who have not kept it.
In short, though you have failed to be a neighbor to many people, Jesus has not failed to be a neighbor to you. He has been your Savior. He has turned to you and has had compassion. He has given you mercy that He paid for. He has been a neighbor to you.
Now Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.” Forgive as you have been forgiven by Him. Love as you have been loved by Him. Carry burdens as He has carried your burdens. Do this not for your salvation, but because of the One who has done this already for you.
“What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus is the One-and-Only Man who has inherited eternal life, and, as a Neighbor to those in need, He has freely shared that eternal life with you. So, again, as our Savior has been a neighbor to us, let us be neighbors to all others. Let us “go and do likewise.” Amen.