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The Risk in Loving Our Neighbor
Howdy, Neighbor!
1.     Read Proverbs 3:27-30; 6:1-5; and 25:20-23
  • In Luke 10:25-42, Jesus has emphasized that God bestows the blessings of his kingdom on those who have a childlike attitude rather than on “the wise and learned.” The incidents of the lawyer (the expert in the Mosaic Law) and of Martha and Mary warns against the danger of distraction. The lawyer has head knowledge of the law of Moses but lacks commitment to put it into practice. Martha receives Jesus into her home, but she too is distracted. Mary, her sister, chooses to hear Jesus’s life-giving words.

Parable of the Good Samaritan 
2.     Read Luke 10:25-37
  • Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan as a response to a question posed by a lawyer. This man, an expert in the first five books of the OT, wishes to test Jesus’s wisdom. His question is so important: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He is not seeking for information, however, but probably wants to gain an advantage over Jesus or is hoping Jesus will embarrass himself. His question assumes that he must do something to receive life after death. The thinking of the lawyer reflects a salvation by works rather than by divine grace.

  • Jesus could have emphasized to the lawyer that eternal life is a gift of God, but he does not try to correct the lawyer’s thinking. He does probe, however, his understanding of the law by asking, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” Knowing the man is an expert in the law of Moses, Jesus asks him how he understands the Scriptures. The lawyer answers by joining the commandments to love God with our whole being (Deuteronomy 6:5) and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18). Jesus agrees with his analysis, but he goes on to focus on the question of the “neighbor” (plesion). Jews limited the meaning of the term neighbor to members of their own nation, excluding Samaritans and foreigners. Jesus redefines the word, broadening its meaning, The love of one’s neighbor grows out of love for God and must be equal to our love of ourselves.

  • Jesus tells the lawyer, “Do this and you will live” (v. 28). To love God and neighbor is the proper response to the grace of God. But God never offers the law as a means of securing eternal life. The commandments of love are not a matter of earning salvation by works but of trust and devotion. If we really love God as Jesus teaches, we will rely on him, not on ourselves for salvation. But God’s saving grace calls for a response from us. Our love—never the cause of forgiveness of sin—grows out of God’s love and acceptance of us (cf. 7:40-47). So when Jesus tells the lawyer, “Do this and you will live,” he does not endorse works as a way to obtain eternal life. Rather, God’s love in our hearts prompts us to love him and neighbor. We live in the Spirit, which bears fruit in loving others and in living righteously (Romans 8:1-11).

  • Jesus’s response shows that the lawyer knows the answer to his own question. The Savior says to him in effect, “You do not need to ask about eternal life. You know what Moses teaches and you know the answer. Just practice what you know.” But the expert in the law is not willing to let it rest there. So to justify his first question, he asks another one: “And who is my neighbor?” He wishes to show that this earlier question is not pointless and that the meaning of “neighbor” is unclear. To answer the lawyer’s question about whom he should show love to, Jesus relates the story of a Samaritan who has compassion on a stranger.

  • A man is traveling on the rugged road between Jerusalem and Jericho. Robbers attack him, taking all he has, beating him with clubs or sticks, and leaving him nearly dead. It just so happens that a priest comes along and sees the man lying there. Uncertain as to whether the man is dead, he fears defilement. Should he have touched him and the man was dead, the priest would have defiled himself (Leviticus 21:1ff.). Exactly why he passes by “on the other side” of the road, Luke does not tell us. The point is that the priest has no heart; he does not bother to see if the sufferer is alive and needs help. A member of the priestly tribe of Levi does the same thing (v. 32). Normally, one would expect the priest and Levite, guardians of the religion of Israel, to render aid, but both have failed to be neighbors to the man.

  • A Samaritan also comes along. When he sees the wounded man by the side of the road, his heart is filled with compassion. On the spot he applies oil and wine to cleanse his wounds and to ease the pain. Since the injured man is unable to walk, he places him on his own donkey and brings him to an inn, where he can receive adequate care. His concern for the man does not stop even there. He gives the innkeeper money sufficient to cover several days of the man’s board and instructs him to care for him as long as is necessary. Should the innkeeper have more expense, he will repay him on his way back. A despised Samaritan proves to be a real neighbor to a wounded man.

  • This story of the good Samaritan teaches the lawyer that his neighbor is anyone he encounters who has a need. Thus Jesus closes the story with the question: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer knows the answer, but he cannot bring himself to speak the despised word “Samaritan” and still wants to choose his neighbor. Thus he refers to him only as “the one who had mercy on him” (v. 37).

  • The lawyer’s answer is correct, for the Samaritan is the one who acted as a neighbor. By showing compassion, he aligned himself with love for God and neighbor. Unlike the priest or Levite, he has submitted to the commandment of love that summarizes the entire law. Similarly, Jesus wants the lawyer to respond in a childlike manner to God and neighbor. So he tells him, “Go and do likewise.” The lawyer too can fulfill the commandment to love God and neighbor by meeting the needs of others regardless of race, color, or gender.

  1. What fences have you put up in your life, and are they meant to keep people out or to bring people together?
  2. When have you had to use a different approach than usual in order to be a faithful follower of God?
  3. When has loving your neighbor proved risky but you have done it anyway?

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