How many people have you given help to over the years? How many hours or days have you spent with people who were going through hard times or facing difficult situations helping them in practical ways? How often have you poured out blood, sweat and tears giving assistance to people in need? And how many of those people were not close family or friends, not Christian friends, but merely acquaintances or even complete strangers?
To put it another way – when were you last a “Good Samaritan”?
This parable is so familiar to everybody that its central character has become part of our language – the Good Samaritan. Jesus told this story to answer important questions.
Question = “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Answer = “ ‘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 neighbour as yourself.’
Next question – “So who is my neighbour?”
The answer is very simple. In the story, when a person finds himself in need, his neighbour is the one who helps him.
30 In reply Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half-dead
We don’t know if the victim here was a decent respectable man or a thief robbed by other thieves. All we know is that he needs the help of a complete stranger. And the person who helps him is not only a stranger but an enemy! Not a religious person like priest. Not a Levite. But a Samaritan. A descendant of the Northern tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, rather than the Southern Tribe of Judah from whom the Israelites descended. Different tribes. By the time of Jesus, different religions too. The Samaritans did not worship God not in Jerusalem but instead on Mount Gerizim. A Samaritan would be the last person a Jew would expect to help them. To a Jew, the idea of a GOOD Samaritan would be a contradiction in terms! Yet it is the Samaritan who happens to be going along the road and takes the big risk of getting involved. He is the neighbour. He helps the man who is in trouble.
33 But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
The Samaritan cared. He had compassion. And that led to practical action!
34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.”
The Samaritan “took pity on him”. He had COMPASSION! And that led to practical action! And that action didn’t come cheap. Two coins was two day’s wages.
We can be good at feeling pity. Sometimes we are not so good at getting stuck in and our hands dirty and helping out! The Good Samaritan gave practical assistance to the man who had been robbed.
Jesus asks, 36 ‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’
37 The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’
Right answer. So Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
That is what it means to love our neighbours. To help out strangers in practical ways in their times of trouble. To have compassion. To show pity and show mercy. To care! And Jesus calls us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves! Jesus made clear that this is the heart of the Christian life. To love people. To show God’s kind of love to strangers. Just like in the parable of the sheep and the goats. Feeding the hungry and the thirsty. Welcoming in the strangers. Clothing the naked. Taking care of the sick. Visiting the prisoners. Because when we do these things for other people we are caring for Christ himself, without knowing it.
God calls us to see Christ in each other, and to serve Christ through each other. Sometimes good Bible believing Christians can be too preoccupied with our Bible Studies and our prayer meetings to help other people (maybe like the Priest and the Levite who passed by on the other side leaving the suffering victim to die). Some Christians deserve the criticism that they are “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly use!” Gavin Reid – Anglican Bishop and Archbishop’s advisor on evangelism once wrote, “We can have too many Christian activities – we run the danger of organising ourselves out of being citizens of the same world as our neighbours!”
“I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger.
I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release. Nice!
I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.
What good did that do?
I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.
But I needed you.
I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.
I wish you’d taken me home.
I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me.
Why didn’t you stay?
You seem so close to God; but I am still very hungry, and lonely, and cold.”
Who is my neighbour? Anybody I can show God’s love to! Anybody who needs my help! Our neighbour is somebody God brings across our path for us to help!
Part of the problem for many people is that WE need to ask “who is my neighbour?” because we don’t know who they are! We don’t know the people living next door or across the street from us. We may not even know their names. We certainly don’t know them well enough to know when they are hurting or to be able to offer to help.
We need to take the time to get to know people’s needs. Sometimes we think there are no needs in North Springfield. In fact there are MASSES of needs all across Chelmsford! There are always folk needing support in times of accident or illness. There are always people who are grieving. Loneliness, depression, stress at work, families torn in two. Debt or money problems. Fears. So many of our neighbours have so many needs – if only we will take the time to get to know them and to find out! Because God calls us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. And the starting point of that love is getting to know our neighbours well enough to find out their needs!
The New Testament approach to outreach was very simple. They preached the gospel. They announced the good news: Jesus Christ is God, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, Jesus Christ is Lord. And alongside the preaching, they were healing the sick and driving out demons. The first Christians went around meeting people’s needs, helping them, loving their neighbours! The early church brought people to Christ by announcing the good news and by being Good Samaritans = by showing God’s kind of sacrificial love to complete strangers. One church sums that approach up in their simple vision statement. “Find a need and we meet it – find a hurt and we heal it”.
If each of us went out of our way to give real practical help to just one stranger or one acquaintance each year, and if even just one in ten of those people was drawn by those expressions of love into the church, that would bring more people to faith in Christ than everything else we do all put together. Preach the gospel. Love your neighbour. By THIS will all men know you are my disciples – by the love you show! The same kind of sacrificial love as Jesus expressed for us dying for us on the cross. Loving each other like that. Loving strangers. Being good Samaritans! Loving your neighbour as you love yourself.
God doesn’t call us to like our neighbours but to LOVE our neighbours. LOVE isn’t a feeling – it’s a command!
In Leviticus 19, where the original quote comes from, loving your neighbour means this:
Leviticus 13 ‘ “Do not defraud or rob your neighbour. …. 4 ‘ “Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling-block in front of the blind, …. 15 ‘ “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly. 16 ‘ “Do not go about spreading slander among your people. ‘ “Do not do anything that endangers your neighbour’s life. I am the LORD. … 18 ‘ “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD.
So what will us loving our neighbour look like in practice? There were three kinds of people in the parable. The robbers said, “What’s yours is mine and I’ll take it!” On the other hand the priest and the Levite said, “What’s mine is my own and I’ll keep it!” It was the Good Samaritan who said, “What’s mine is yours – we can share it!”
To love your neighbour as you love yourself means:-
To put his/her needs at the same level as your needs – to give their needs the same weight as your needs.
If their family are hungry and your family are hungry you share the food you have – you do not eat and leave them hungry. THAT is Good Samaritan love.
If they or their family are sick and your family are sick you share the medicine you have.
If they have nowhere to sleep and you do – you find them somewhere to sleep or you share your home with them. THAT is Good Samaritan love.
If they need to travel and you are able to help them travel, you help them travel. THAT is Good Samaritan love.
If your have a loved one who is dying and you are at their bedside as much as if it was your own loved one’s bedside. THAT is Good Samaritan love.
If their child is lost and your child is lost – you search for both children and not just your own. THAT is Good Samaritan love.
If they are in debt and you have money you help them with money.
If they face a problem you help them sort out their problem – however long that takes, however much it may cost you in time and energy and heartache and money.
Because THAT is Good Samaritan love. THAT is loving your neighbour as you love yourself.
And the people you help are not just your family, not just your close friends, not just your Christian friends, but rather the strangers you meet on the roadside. They are your neighbours simply because they are in need and you are in a position to show mercy to them and help them.
Love not just your friends but even your enemies, Jesus says. It was the age-old enemy the Samaritan who was the true neighbour to the man in distress. Loving your enemies as well as your friends. THAT is Good Samaritan love! THAT is what it means to love your neighbour as you love yourself!
I know that very many of you already ARE Good Samaritans. You already do give tremendous time and energy to help your neighbours. Many of you have always helped your neighbours in quiet unseen ways – as anonymous as the Good Samaritan in the parable who does not have a name. But the command to love our neighbours as we love ourselves will always bring a continuing challenge to all of us. This familiar parable is so memorable it has given us not one but two phrases which have entered into our language. The first is the fine example to follow – The “Good Samaritan” – the person who goes out of his way to help out. But the second phrase is the opposite – a bad example to avoid. “Passing by on the other side”. The priest and the Levite who both go out of their way to AVOID helping out.
Are we the kind of people who help out? Are we Good Samaritans? Or are we the kind of people who close our eyes to the needs of others and just pass by on the other side?
1 John 4:20 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (NIV) If we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we have not seen? (NEW LIVING TRANSLATION)
1 John 3:18 1 John 3:18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
(Message) My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s put real love into practice!
Love your neighbour as you love yourself! Go and do likewise!