Pentecost 8c

Preached: July 18, 2010

Have I Loved My Neighbor As Myself?
Luke 10:25-37

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit shows our need for Jesus is recorded in Luke 10

And behold, a law expert stood up to test [Jesus], “Teacher, what can I do to inherit eternal life?”

[Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

He answered, “Love the Lord your God from all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

[Jesus] said to him, “You've answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”

Wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus took up the question and said, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and he fell to robbers. After they stripped and beat him, they went away leaving him half dead.

“By chance a priest came down that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise also a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

“Now a Samaritan traveling along came to him, and when he saw him, his heart went out to him. Going to him, he dressed his wounds, pouring out oil and wine [on them]. After he had set him on his on own animal, he led him to an inn and cared for him. Heading out the next day, he gave the innkeeper two danarii and said, 'Take care of him, and whatever extra you spend, I certainly will repay you when I come back here.'

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the one who fell to the robbers?”

He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

On our first evening in Washington, D.C., we were struck by the number of homeless people. As we walked from our hotel to Union Station for supper, some were sitting in the park across the street. Some were lying on benches. Some had a cart load of stuff, probably all their earthly possessions. Some asked for money, but most just sat there. Were they our neighbor?

The faces of orphans flash across the TV screen. A former president asks us to help Haiti. Are they our neighbor?

That rundown house the police regularly visit, whose yard's full of junk and whose occupants can make quite a raucous -- are they our neighbor?

“And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29 NIV), the expert in the law asked. And then Jesus responded by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. It's one of the better known Bible stories. You all know it well. But so many miss the point Jesus wants to make.

Many imagine Jesus told it to show us how to be good, Christian people. And a lot go even farther claiming that if we try to live up to the example of the Good Samaritan, then we're on our way to heaven. How contrary to the Gospel that is!

Take a look at the context. Jesus is not speaking these words to show the law expert how to be a good person. He already knows that. Jesus has a very different purpose in mind. He accomplishes this purpose in our hearts today as we rightly listen to his words and ask ourselves: Have I loved my neighbor as myself?

A. I'm unable to justify myself

What was Jesus aim as he spoke to this law expert? Let's consider the situation. The law expert wants to test Jesus. Does he have some new laws to add to what God gave Moses at Mt. Sinai, some extra things to do to gain eternal life? “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25 NIV), he asks.

Now if anyone insists on focusing on what they themselves do, then Jesus has nothing new. God had already revealed through Moses what must be done. So Jesus directs the expert to the Old Testament law.

This expert gives an excellent summary of the law. “'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'” (Luke 10:27 NIV).

“Do this and you will live” (Luke 10:28 NIV), Jesus answers. How true that is! If you keep the law perfectly all the time loving God above all and loving your neighbor as yourself, God promises he'll give you eternal life -- as long as you never fail, not even once. If we could do that, then Jesus did not need to come. He doesn't bring any extra laws for us to do. If we could keep the law, then it was foolish for Jesus to suffer as he did.

Those brief words from Jesus, “Do this and you will live” (Luke 10:28 NIV), must have twitched this man's conscience. “Have I really kept the law? Have I loved my neighbor as myself?” Guilt started to accuse him. He needed to justify himself. He needed to prove that he really had kept the law. And it all depended on what that word neighbor meant. So he asks, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29 NIV).

B. I've failed to love my enemy, but Jesus didn't fail

Now as you hear Jesus picture what it means to be a neighbor, ask yourself, “Have I loved my neighbor as myself?”

A Jewish man falls to robbers and is left half dead. Two Jewish religious leaders pass by on the other side. But then the Samaritan comes. Samaritans and Jews hated each other. But what does this Samaritan do? Does he think to himself, “That Jewish pig got what was coming to him”? Not at all! Rather we're told that his heart went out to him. “He took pity on him” (Luke 10:33 NIV). For you see, to love your neighbor as yourself means not only your friends but also your enemies, to love our enemies as much as we love we friends, for they both are our neighbor.

Think of what that means in our day-to-day life. When something bad happens to that annoying coworker or that person who insults you or that classmate that calls you names or that individual who hurts you, you don't have a moment of passing pleasure as you relish them getting what they deserve. Not an ounce of Schadenfreude. Rather your heart goes out to them as it would go out to your own dear child suffering the tragedy. That's what it means. So have you loved your neighbor as yourself?

And if you're thinking that Jesus can't really be including our enemies with our neighbors, remember what he said in Luke 6, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27, 28).

Have you loved your neighbor, yes even your enemy, as yourself? Has anyone done that? Not the law expert, not you, not me. But only the One who loved even his betrayer attempting to call him to repentance even as he betrayed him with a kiss. Only the One who prayed for those who nailed him to the cross, “Father, forgive them.” Only the One who came into this dark, sin-infested world to seek and to save his enemies, lost sinners, including you and me. Only Jesus has perfectly loved even his enemies, giving up his very self for them, for you.

C. I've failed in sacrificial love, but Jesus didn't fail

Have you loved your neighbor as yourself? We have more to learn from Jesus' parable. Many imagine they have loved their neighbor as they point to their works of charity. It's often easy to justify ourselves in the eyes of man by pointing out how much more we're doing than others might be doing. We're not the priest or the Levite who passed by on the other side doing nothing. Especially living in a rich country as we do, it's easy to give from the overflow of our surplus or figure we're doing our share through the taxes we pay for government programs. But is this loving our neighbor as ourselves?

Look at the Samaritan. He didn't figure, “If those religious leaders didn't help at all as long as I help just a little bit I'm doing better than they are.” He didn't think, “I'm tired from my journey. I need my donkey to ride.” He didn't think, “This is a dangerous place. I can't risk dressing his wounds here. I'll just report it to the authorities in the next town. Hopefully he won't die in the mean time.”

Rather he reasoned, “If I were lying there half dead, I would want help right a way. I would want him to dress my wounds and carry me to safety.” He loved his neighbor as himself. He is willingly to make the greatest sacrifices. He uses his own wine and oil to dress the wound at his expense. He gives up his comfort so that the donkey can carry the wounded man. He sacrifices his time caring for him. Yes, he even risks his life lingering in that dangerous place to help before it was too late. He knows that God can protect if he so chooses.

Have you loved your neighbor as yourself, not rating your effort against others who have done less, but rather ready to sacrifice whatever was necessary to bring the help that was needed? How you and I have failed! Only One gave up all in order to bring the help that we so desperately needed. He left the riches of heaven and became poor for our sake, lowering himself even to death on a cross so that we may become rich through his poverty. Only Jesus has loved his neighbor as himself, giving up himself for you.

D. I've failed in tireless love, but Jesus didn't fail

And finally note how the Samaritan in Jesus' parable did not tire of loving his neighbor. He didn't dump him off at the inn but took care of him throughout the night. He paid for additional care and promised to pick up the tab for whatever more charges there might be.

How easily our hearts grow cold and empty over time even when we're helping a friend! Our patience wears out. Our selfish concerns grow. We so easily tire of loving our neighbor as ourselves!

But Jesus loved his own to the very end. Through the mocking and insults, through the scourging and nails, yes even through the darkness and his god-forsaken cry, he never grew tired of loving you.

And then Jesus closes his lesson, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37 NIV). But I can't! I don't love my enemies as I should. My selfishness holds back how much I'm willing to sacrifice for others. I so easily tire even of loving my friends. I have failed to love my neighbor as myself, and so have you.

And that, dear friend, is why Jesus came: To pay for our lovelessness. To atone for our failures. To credit us with his perfect love that never tires but gives its all even for his enemies.

And that's why Jesus told this parable. He didn't tell it to show us how to be good people, but to show the expert in the law and to show you and me how badly we have failed to be good people. How much we need Jesus! Our love toward others cannot and will not save us, for our love fails. Only one love saves, not our love, but God's love in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And as you gaze on Jesus seeing God's great love that gave his Son into death on the cross for you, then love for your neighbor is kindled in your heart. And as you remain in Jesus and his word, his love letter, remains in you that love for your neighbor will grows warmer and brighter. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313