Trinity United Methodist Church
Saturday, December 16, 2017
Making Disciples for Jesus Christ

Sermon


Luke 10:25-37                                                                      July 14, 2013

GETTING IT RIGHT

Catherine Booth was the mother of the Salvation Army.   Evangelist Campbell Morgan said “Wherever Catherine Booth went, humanity went to hear. Princes and princesses merged with paupers and prostitutes.” One night, Morgan shared in a meeting with Mrs. Booth, and a great crowd of publicans and sinners was there. Her message brought many to Christ. After the meeting, Morgan and Mrs. Booth were to be entertained at a fine home, and the lady of the manor said, “My dear Mrs. Booth, that meeting was dreadful.”

“What do you mean, dearie?” asked Mrs. Booth. “Oh, when you were speaking, I was looking at those people opposite to me. Their faces were so terrible, many of them. I don’t think I shall sleep tonight!” “Why dearie, don’t you know them?” Mrs. Booth asked, and the hostess replied, “Certainly not!” “Well that is interesting,” Mrs. Booth said. “I did not bring them with me from London. They are your neighbors!”[1]

How do you define a neighbor? In grade school they were always telling us to share with your neighbor, which I didn’t understand. I didn’t live by any of those kids in my class; they weren’t my neighbors. I was taking the word literally to mean those who shared my street – an issue of proximity. Then came Mr. Rogers, my childhood hero, who always invited everyone to be his neighbor. I started to realize that neighbors had more to do with attitude than location. Since Fred Rogers was an ordained minister, I now believe that his idea of neighbor was Biblically based.

Loving your neighbor is a Biblical concept. It’s a commandment from God. It’s what we must do, according to this lawyer who questioned Jesus. This man was using his best courtroom tactics to test Jesus, to force Jesus to clarify for him the definition of a neighbor. He knew whole heartedly the commandment’s requirement to love God with his heart, soul, strength, and mind; he wanted a conditional explanation of what a neighbor was. If possible, he would have heard from Jesus a list of people he could exclude. He was looking for a technicality. He was looking for a loophole. He was looking to get it right.

But do you get the feeling he was looking to get it right out of love for God or out of the sense of minimal obedience? He was forgetting the intent of the commandment, which is to honor God by showing His love to others. Eternal life is ours for the asking; anything we do is in response to that gift. He was looking out for his own interests, but that’s backwards. It’s by looking out for the interests of others that we please and honor God.

Jesus being the teacher that He was, answered the lawyer’s question in the form of a parable, a story designed not to give him the answer, but to let him discover it for himself. What Jesus taught that day was the subject of philosophy. The subject of theology had already been established – the lawyer knew the law of God, he knew the justification of his actions based on his belief in God. While we have faith and beliefs based on that faith, unfortunately we also have philosophies or ways of thinking that may interfere with our faith.

From a philosophical point of view this parable represents various people with different needs, illustrating three philosophies of life. Our main character is the poor victim, whose need was to get from place to place undisturbed. Later his needs were medical attention, shelter, and compassion. We cannot conclude what his philosophy was. Next came the men who robbed this man, beat him and left him for dead. Perhaps their needs were money or violence. Maybe they had no means of employment. Maybe they were simply evil. Their philosophy of life was, “What yours is mine.” This way of thinking occurs when jealousy or anger are allowed to act. This is the person to whom the world owes something.

Some very selfish and irresponsible people share this philosophy – people who abuse those unable to defend themselves, people with disreputable business practices, people who disregard the law, certainly. Countless victims of people like this exist all over the world and throughout history; whole generations suffered the effects of war waged by power-crazed dictators – Hitler, Stalin, and Hussein. Taking what you want usually results in the suffering of others.

The next two figures in the story didn’t want to take anything from anyone. They simply wanted to avoid giving of themselves. They were men of high calling representing an institution dedicated to the helping of others – the church. The priest had the responsibility of preparing the sacrifices and making atonement for the sins of others, which is perhaps why he was too preoccupied to recognize when he committed a sin of his own. The Levite was also an official of the temple, kind of a trustee/worship leader combination. His duties were more involved than those of the priest, so much so that he was probably too busy to be bothered.

The philosophy shared by these men was “What’s mine is mine.” In their authoritative roles as leaders of the faith, they could not risk becoming unclean from contact with the dead. It was natural from them to assume that this poor beaten man already dead, so what good could they possibly do for him? He was just an unpleasant break in their already busy day. Rather than live out their faith and love their neighbor, they chose to ignore the problem. They were looking out for number one.

What’s particularly interesting here is that both of these men of God neglected their neighbor. Yes, they were traveling on a dangerous road filled with risk, but they did not act according to the Scriptures they knew so well. This is where our attitude and our self-interest interfere with our faith response. Years ago a study was done at Princeton.  Forty students were used. Half of them were given a manuscript on the vocational placements of seminary students, the other half were given a copy of today’s parable. Both groups were told they would be recording these documents on the other side of campus.

One third of the students were told they had plenty of time. One third were told they had to go immediately. The other third were told they were already late. Each student was given a designated route. Along that route there was a man, pretending to be in pain and in obvious distress. The results were very informative. The students’ reaction was not affected at all by the material they had been reading. The main factor in deciding to help was the amount of time each thought they had. Only 16 students stopped, mostly those who thought they had enough time. Only 45% of those with just enough time stopped, and only 10% of those who stopped to help.[2]

Now comes the hero of our story – the man who would go down in history as the Good Samaritan. The very connection of the word good with the name Samaritan was what made the parable so unlikely, especially to the lawyer who first heard it. Jesus used a familiar formula in His narrative, a series of three examples; the first two negative, which meant the third would be positive. Who would be that positive role model? Samaritans were held in such low esteem that they were not associated in any way with positive behavior. And yet, the man who illustrated the third philosophy was a Samaritan.

His philosophy was “What’s mine is yours.” He took the time to stop, investigate, and act when no one else would. He didn’t worry about appearances or maintaining his clean status – he was willing to do a good deed when no one was looking. He didn’t blame the victim or judge him because of his misfortune. Instead he personified the very commandment that gave rise to his story; he loved his neighbor without hesitating long enough to find out exactly who his neighbor was. The victim didn’t care who stopped to help him.  He didn’t ask for his religious affiliation or worry about paying him back. He was a willing recipient of grace.

Jesus the clever teacher turned to His pupil with a question of His own, ‘Which of these three acted like a neighbor to the man who was robbed?” Notice He didn’t ask which one considered him a neighbor, but which one acted like a neighbor. Even though the lawyer couldn’t bring himself to speak the word Samaritan, he got the point of the story, and he recognized that the man who showed mercy was the true neighbor. Not that he understood the definition of neighbor, with all its global implications; he had no excuse to be ignorant in the future.

I want you to notice two points about this passage from Luke. The first point to notice is the wording of the commandment to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. Notice which source you must use first and foremost – your heart. God asks us to use our heart first and our mind last. I believe the reason for that will be explained by the second point I want you to notice. I’ve already pointed out the philosophies of those men who came upon the victim. Now I want to point out their movements.

When the priest saw the beaten man, he moved away from him to the other side of the road. He wouldn’t even walk by him; he went out of his way to avoid him. Same with the Levite. He saw him and passed by on the other side. However when this Samaritan saw him he acted differently and this is the key to the whole passage. He was filled with compassion and he went to the man. He didn’t move away, he moved closer. He was moved by his compassion and his compassion caused him to move.

The choice to care is ours, but will you choose with your heart or with your mind? Compassion is not an intellectual decision. It doesn’t come from your mind. It has to come from your heart. Having compassion is a turning point in someone’s life. It changes the life of another, as it did for the man in the story. As it does for those who receive mission kits or Christmas shoeboxes or flood relief or whatever else we are moved to give.

Any time there is a victim in this world, different people view that person through different philosophies. In this parable there were at least five points of view surrounding the victim. To the thieves, he was a source of income, someone to use and exploit. To the religious men, he was a problem to be avoided. To the innkeeper, he was a customer to be served for profit. To the Samaritan, he was a human being worth being cared for and loved. To Jesus, he and everyone else in the story, including the lawyer, were all worth dying for.

Jesus died for all people, even criminals and those who refuse to acknowledge the needs of anyone but themselves. If we worry about getting it right, about fulfilling the commandments of God, not for some legal obligation, but because we love God, we need to remember that. 

There are many ways to say this same thing; “He who despises his neighbor sins, but happy is he who is gracious to the poor.” “Vindicate the weak and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute.” “Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.”  Or my personal favorite, “He has told you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Essentially, the message is the same; love with your heart, not with your head.

 
 
 
 


[1] http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/n/neighbor.htm
[2] http://faculty.babson.edu/krollag/org_site/soc_psych/darley_samarit.html