Proper 10 —
What must I do to inherit eternal life? This question occupies our thoughts today, but it is not a new question. An “expert in the law” once asked Jesus this question. In answer, Jesus turned the question back on him and asked what he thought the answer
was. “Love the Lord with all your heart,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The man’s answer was straight out of
Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Jesus told him he was right. All he had to do was to put those words into practice: “Do this and
you will live.”
If the questioner truly had been aware, he would have stopped talking; but he continued. As Luke tells us, “He wanted to justify himself.” So he asked a calculating question: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with a story that drove home the lesson: He told about three men who had the opportunity to show neighborliness to a crime victim. Two flunked the test; one scored an “A” without studying.
1. Neighborliness is not determined by religious traditions.
The first two men in the parable were religious leaders. They had good reasons for not stopping to help the injured man. If they had, both would have been made ceremonially unclean according to the customs of their day. They had a kind of duty to leave the man in the ditch! They had to be kept ready to lead worship.
The question changes from, “What do I need?” to “What does he need?” Jesus helped the expert in the law realize that religious traditions should not prevent people from helping other people, regardless of their beliefs.
Jonathan and Leah Wilson-Hartgrove went to Iraq shortly before the invasion. They were there with Christian Peacemaker Teams. When the war started, they had to escape through the desert to Jordan. Their caravan bounced over terrible roads even as American bombs fell. The car in front of the one carrying Jonathan and Leah crashed, throwing the passengers from the car.
The caravan stopped and everyone tried to help the injured passengers, but they were in a hostile area during a war.
Just then some Iraqis stopped. Seeing the wounded Americans lying on the roadside, they picked them up and took them to a small town called Rutba. The doctor there said, “Three days ago, your country bombed our hospital; but we will take care of you.” He sewed up the cuts on their heads and saved their lives. When asked what they owed him, he said, “Nothing. Please just tell the world what has happened in Rutba.”
That experience changed Jonathan. “The more we told that story after returning from Iraq, the more we realized that is was a Good Samaritan story. The Iraqis, who were supposed to be our enemies, had stopped by the roadside, pulled our friends out of the ditch, and saved their lives. God gave us a sign of His love and send a Good Iraqi to teach us how to love our neighbors as ourselves. In so many ways, my life has become a meditation on the Good Samaritan story that we lived in the desert. The radical hospitality of people who were supposed to be my enemies opened my eyes to God’s love in the world.” (Diana
Butler Bass, A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story. HarperOne, 2009, p. 306).
2. Neighborliness is not determined by geography.
The one who stopped to help the man who had been robbed was called a Samaritan. These people traced their roots to Samaria
instead of Jerusalem. The Jews and Samaritans were considered enemies (
In telling this story, Jesus made His hearers gasp in astonishment when He told of an enemy stopping to help the man. He was from the wrong place! How could he help?
Being a neighbor does not stop at national borders. Perhaps that is why Doctors Without Borders was formed. When Haiti suffered an earthquake in early 2010, people from around the world sent aid.
3. Neighborliness is determined by being neighborly.
At the end of the story, when the expert in the law finally learned the lesson, Jesus had only one more thing to say. This is what we hear today als “Go and do likewise.”