Missions & Ditches - January 24, 2016 _____________________________________________________________________________
Pastor Dale Lloyd
Scripture Reading: Luke 10: 27 – 37
Theme: Missions & Ditches
One of the great frustrations Adam and I have to deal with is that we get thirty minutes each week to engage the Word of God in community. The frustration with that is that there is so much in the various portions of scripture we present and the time limitation is such that 99% of it gets left on the shelf. That is certainly the case with this portion of Scripture we are considering this morning.
It requires considerable skill and discipline to stay narrowly focused on the central point of the presentation while sacrificing most of the context. And of course, the loss of context compromises the clarity of the central point. Understanding that, let us look at this story.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is known both inside and outside the church. It was presented by Christ in response to a very specific question: “And who is my neighbour?” The questioner was a Lawyer, and the motivation behind the question was self-justification. And the reason this question came up was because the Lawyer had painted himself into a corner with his summation of the Law: “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 NEIGHBOUR AS YOURSELF.”
Notice carefully that Christ did not challenge him, question him, or even hint that there was a problem with his answer. In fact it was just the opposite. Christ simply responded with: “You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE.”
Every time I read this I have the same thought; if this lawyer had of had any sense at all he would have stopped the conversation right there. But he couldn’t, and I believe he couldn’t because his heart was convicted by his own words. He knew that loving God and loving his neighbour could never be divorced from each other. They were two sides of a single coin. There could be no such thing as loving God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind, while at the same time NOT loving your neighbour in the same way.
Let me fortify that truth with the following scriptures.
Rom. 13: 8 – 10 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law. For this, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR AS YOURSELF.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.
Gal.5: 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR AS YOURSELF.”
James 2: 8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well.
Christ said: “DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE.” If that Lawyer felt he was truly doing this, truly loving his neighbour, then why did he attempt to justify himself? The word ‘justify’ as used here means: ‘to show, prove, demonstrate, or exhibit oneself to be righteous (right) just as he is and wishes himself to be considered.’ But the Litmus test of all of that was how he loved his neighbour.
According to the Jews, any member of the Hebrew race and commonwealth was considered a neighbour. According to Christ, any other man irrespective of race or religion with whom we live or whom we chance to meet is our neighbour. In the Jewish culture of the day the old commandment to love your neighbour was interpreted this way: “Thou shalt love thy compatriot but needst not love thy (personal) enemy,” Jesus demands we love our enemies.
The lawyer is claiming that he loves his neighbour depending on how you define the word neighbour. And that’s the critical point. In keeping with his definition of neighbour he felt righteously justified in how he loved. According to how the word was defined in the Jewish culture of the day this lawyer was doing just fine. According to the way Jesus defined the term he was not even close to loving his neighbour.
The issue in true love – the way God loves – is never: Who is my neighbour? The issue is: To whom am I being a neighbour? This is revealed in the final question at the end of the story: “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbour to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?”
The story Christ told did not in any way address the question of the lawyer: “Who is my neighbour?” Instead it focused upon the three people (the Priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan) who came into contact with the man in the ditch; and the focus was upon: Which of the three was a true neighbour to the man in the ditch?
What is really going on when we spend our time analyzing and defining who our neighbour is? The real issue there is this: Who am I responsible to love, and who am I not responsible to love? In other words we are establishing the boundaries and limits of love. I love you because you fit within my definition of neighbour. I don’t have to love you because you fall outside of that same definition. This means that I go through life dolling out love in a very economical way within the narrow boundaries of my definition of neighbour.
But the true nature of God’s love is such that it is quite incapable of asking about any limits. It does not think in terms of where does neighbour begin and where does neighbour end.
The strong and powerful lesson is this: One cannot define one’s neighbour; one can only be a neighbour. Moreover we cannot determine in advance who are neighbours are going to be, but in the course of life they will be revealed to us.
I have to conclude that the question: ‘Who is my neighbour?’ is never a legitimate question. But perhaps this one is: ‘Where is my neighbour?’ Based upon the story Christ told, I am comfortable enough in suggesting that your neighbour is that person in your ditch. It doesn’t matter who that person is or how they fell into your ditch. All that matters is that we have become aware of them – aware of their needs and losses. Will we now be a true neighbour to them and love them as we have been loved.
To love the man in my ditch with the true love of a neighbour is the direct result of a growing understanding of how much I am loved of God.