Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace. Amen
It is an interesting conversation that takes place between Jesus and the lawyer. The lawyer was an expert in the Law of Moses which is of course different than the kind of law lawyers practice in our time.
Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? It is the kind of question from the kind of person that already knows the answer before the question is asked. Which I find to be mildly irritating.
It is like being asked a question by someone who already has the answer and they can’t wait to tell you what the answer is. Perhaps you have experienced this kind of exchange before.
The lawyer knew the answer but he wants to test Jesus. So Jesus plays along.
“What is written in the law? What do you read there?” And the lawyer is thinking; this is great, I get to answer my own question, “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 Jesus said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
If the lawyer would have stopped right here, he would have been ok. He gave the right answer. Wahoo!! He impressed everyone, including Jesus, with his knowledge of the Law of Moses.
But as we all know, giving the right answer is a whole lot easier than doing the right answer.
What’s that old proverb, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
So the lawyer digs deeper and to this I can relate. He wants to justify himself. He wants to make sure that loving God and loving neighbor fits into his definition of what he thinks it should be so he asks another question of Jesus. And who is my neighbor?
We all have our ideas about what it means to love God and love our neighbors?
We set up in our own minds and hearts just how we will love God and love our neighbor in way that works best for us.
We try and love God and our neighbor in a manner that fits our lifestyle and our schedule but doesn’t interfere with the really important things in our lives or in our families. It allows us to be in control.
This is one of the ways I justify myself and it works quite well actually. But that darn question the lawyer asks; and who is my neighbor? Part of me wishes he wouldn’t have asked Jesus the question but he just couldn’t help himself could he.
Jesus answers this question by telling a parable and it just may be the most familiar parable in the New Testament. The Good Samaritan. We have a law in the state of MN named after this parable.
The danger with this kind of familiarity is that we tend to interpret the story without listening to the story in a new way.
Last Sunday, my wife and I went to the Swedish Institute for a concert and while we were there we took in some of the exhibits.
The last one we walked through was difficult. It was a series of photographs by a Swedish Photographer by the name of Magnus Wennman titled Where the Children Sleep.
Janis and I had the gallery to ourselves so we could take our time and read the captions below each picture.
The pictures were large and it was a series of photographs of children from Syria who were fleeing the civil war in that country.
I won’t lie to you, they were difficult to look at. Children with blood on their faces and wounds that were being tended.
Pictures of children whose eyes seemed filled with fear and empty of hope.
Pictures of children literally sleeping on the ground in the woods or alongside the road with a small backpack filled with all their belongings as a pillow on a journey with their parents or relatives trying to get to Europe and out of Syria.
I found myself wanting to move thru the gallery faster and faster the deeper I got into the pictures. My heart got heavier and heavier and I know this may seem weird and I can’t help it that my brain works this way but part of me felt like the Priest or the Levite who passed by on the other side because that is what I wanted to do.
I didn’t want to look at the side of the road and see what was there.
I didn’t want to look at the side of the road anymore because I didn’t know how to be a neighbor in this situation. So I just kept moving. But the pictures have stayed with me.
And if a picture is worth a thousand words the words that keep coming to my mind and heart as I think about the pictures at the Swedish Institute is the lawyer’s question; and who is my neighbor?
The answer to the question is given in the parable and for the lawyer, the answer is perhaps even more difficult than the question itself.
In the parable it is the Samaritan who sees the person at the side of the road and comes to his aid. It is the Samaritan who binds up his wounds, takes him to an inn and provides for his needs.
It is the Samaritan, a people group hated by the Jews, enemies of the followers of the Law of Moses, who shows the lawyer how to be a neighbor to the man in need. Ouch.
That is a tough pill to swallow when your enemies have to show you how to be a neighbor.
Jesus asks the lawyer; which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Where do I start to show mercy?
What do I see when I look at the side of the road?
Do I start by showing mercy to myself and by giving myself permission to say no to the things that draw me away from loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength so that I can better love my neighbor?
Maybe the person at the side of your road in need of mercy is your spouse, your partner, your mother or father, or your children. Are not these people, the people so close to us we sometimes neglect to see, are they not our neighbor?
Is there someone at your place of employment in need of mercy and have you considered how you might give it to this person that you don’t like or is different than you yet in need of a neighbor? Is there someone at your school in need of mercy? This list is endless; people at the side of the road.
When Jesus says go and do likewise he is speaking to you and me and he knows how hard it is for us to go and do likewise.
But showing mercy means that when we look at the side of the road and we see people who are close to us or far away from us,
- people who are familiar to us or different than us,
- who come from our religion or different religions,
- different colors or different circumstances,
- that we see them not with fear and anger but with compassion, with mercy, with eyes and hearts that are filled with the love of God, heart, soul, mind and strength.
It is not a matter of over analyzing who is or isn’t my neighbor.
It isn’t about answering the question correctly.
It is about doing the answer, like the Good Samaritan, the one who showed mercy.
And like Jesus, we are to go and do likewise.
Thanks be to God. Amen