Sunday, July 18, 2010


In the Gospels, Jesus addresses the Great Command twice. The first time he refers to this, it’s to illustrate how all of the law can be summarized by loving God and loving your neighbor. (Matt 22:34-40) The second time, he expands on the same thought in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-37)

In each case, the person who initiated the conversation was a lawyer. In Matthew, the question is asked in order to test Jesus and, possibly, make him look foolish to the crowds who were following him. In the second case, the lawyer asks a different question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” but the question is also intended to test Jesus. His response to the lawyer in this second case is to ask the lawyer, “What is written in the Law?” and it is the lawyer who says, “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 love your neighbor as yourself.”

To the lawyer Jesus says, "You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live." (v. 28)

But the lawyer isn’t satisfied with this answer. Instead, he wants to “justify himself” (v.29) and so he asks, “And who is my neighbor?”

To set this man straight, Jesus tells a parable that most of us know as the Good Samaritan. However, most of what is really going on in this exchange is lost to us today.

What we miss, first, is that Jesus flips the story around so that the person who is in need of mercy and love is the Jew. In effect, he’s saying, “You are walking along a dangerous road and a group of thieves jump out and beat the stuffing out of you. They rob you and leave you laying on the road to die.”

Now the person who is in need of mercy isn't “your neighbor”, it's you.

The lawyer asked “Who is my neighbor?” because he wanted to know where the line was drawn when it came to showing love to others. Obviously we’re not supposed to just love anyone and everyone, right? God just wants us to love the people who are like us, and who agree with us, right?


This is why Jesus chooses the hero of the story to be a Samaritan. They were very much disliked in this day and time by the Jews. For you and I, Jesus might alter the parable to read something like this:

“But an illegal immigrant from Mexico, as he traveled, came where the man was…”

Or maybe:

"...and when the Muslim man saw him, he took pity on him."

Or perhaps:

“The homosexual, liberal, democrat went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.”

Or even:

“Then the Republican senator put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.”

It doesn’t matter really. You probably know already what person – or persons – Jesus would insert into your version of the parable if he were telling it to you. Maybe it’s a member of a political party, or an ethnic group, or someone who doesn’t share your family values. Who knows? God does. And He expects you to see that person as your neighbor, and therefore, someone worthy of love and compassion.

At the end of the parable, Jesus asks, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” (v. 36) The lawyer cannot even bring himself to say the word ‘Samaritan’, he only says, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Here, the point is, that when we are the ones laying in the ditch, we really stop caring who comes to help us – we just want someone to show us a little human kindness. That’s why Jesus flips the story around. He wants us to understand that color, and politics, and differences of opinion mean nothing when it comes right down to it. Love is our calling, and we have no excuses in God’s eyes when it comes to who deserves to be loved.

One of my all-time favorite verses in the New Testament is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 which says:

“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

That sounds pretty harsh, doesn’t it? And it might be if Paul didn’t add the very next sentence. Just about the time everyone is making a fist and getting ready to slam it down to say, “That’s right!” he adds:

“And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

See that? The church in Corinth was composed of former adulterers, sexual deviants, male prostitutes, idolaters, homosexual offenders, thieves, drunks, grifters, liars and sinners. Yet, somehow all of them managed to receive the love of Jesus without feeling condemned or ashamed. Instead, they were all loved and washed and set apart for the work of the Gospel and justified by the same, loving Jesus.

Apparently they had forgotten this fact. Paul had to remind them who they were when they were called. Maybe we need to stop and remember who we were when we first came to Jesus, too?

“Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:26-31)


Norma Hill - aka penandpapermama said...

Trust you won't mind that I linked to this post, in a post of my own. Your post helped me think through what I was writing about. thanks!

Keith Giles said...

Of course I don't mind. Thanks for sharing your link here also.

These are challenging questions for those who are seriously trying to follow Jesus, aren't they?

Blessings to you as you seek His face.