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Be A Good Neighbor: Love Your Enemy!

September 7, 2011

I’ve been reading through the Four Gospels this year again, starting with Matthew and ending with John. I’m in Luke 10 now and I always love when I come to the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). So much new is unpacked every time I read it.

The Encounter

It all starts with the typical encounter that Jesus came across in his day: a religious leader asking Jesus a super spiritual question in order to test Him. And in like fashion, Jesus always answered the questions in a way that gives them more than they could expect or imagine and that reveals their hearts. An expert in religious law asks Jesus, “what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds, “What does the law of Moses say, how do you read it?” In case you can’t tell already, Jesus is asking a leading question.  It’s not as if Jesus is ignorant of the Law of Moses, he wants to know what the expert teacher thinks it says.

The law expert says to inherit eternal life one must love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus tells him he’s right and says if he’ll do this he’ll live!

Good enough right? Unfortunately not. Getting his question answered wasn’t enough, nor that he answered rightly, which would have puffed up his pride like he wanted. The followup question would both reveal the expert’s heart and original motive and Jesus’ aim in the entire setup.

The text then says, “the man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked, ‘who then is my neighbor?'”

Yes, the perfect precursor question to usher in Jesus’ parable. This parable is quite possibly one of Jesus’ most famous, even among the non Christian world. The parable of the Good Samaritan.

The Story

Jesus proceeds to tell a story of a Jewish man traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, probably on a business trip. He gets attacked by some bandits who strip him of his clothes, beat him severely and leave him half dead along the road.

Several people pass by this dying man, only to skip over him and even go out of their way to avoid him.

First a priest, surely religious, walked by and when he saw the man, went to the other side of the road and passed him by.

Second a temple assistant, surely also religious, walked over to the man and looked at him, but then passed him by and went to the other side of the road.

Finally a “despised Samaritan” came by, when he got close he felt compassion on the man. He came to him and bandaged his wounds, cleaned him up, put him on his own donkey, took him to an inn to be cared for, and told the innkeeper to care for him and leave him the bill.

Jesus finishes his parable and asks the expert, “which one of these men do you think was a neighbor to the man?”

The expert has no choice but to answer the Samaritan, the one who showed him mercy, especially since his heart is now arrested by the point of the story.

Jesus finally says, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

The Point

Now there’s a lot to unpack here, but I only want to share what I think are the most important take-aways.

First of all, the most important point to draw out of this story is the identity of the two main characters: a Jewish man and a Samaritan man. In case you don’t know your Biblical history, these two nations were sworn enemies. The Jews called the Samaritans dogs. They both hated each other. Jesus could have picked anyone to be the beaten man and anyone to be the good helper. But he specifically chose two people who would have hated each other. Why? To bring more weight and completion to the command “love your neighbor” with his call to “love your enemy”. It’s easy to help a stranger, or even a foreigner of neutral or unknown relation, but an enemy? No way! That’s Jesus’ point. Loving your neighbor as yourself also includes loving your enemies. Neighbors include enemies! Pretty radical huh? And it would have been so at the telling of this parable since this national hatred was fresh at the time and since the person Jesus directed his story at was a Jewish religious leader.

Second, another important point to draw out is the fact that Jesus chooses the Jewish man to be the one in need and the Samaritan to be one who gives mercy. Again, it’s no coincidence that Jesus does this.  He knows that if he were to place the men in opposite roles, the expert would not have received the parable and probably missed Jesus’ point. If the Samaritan was the man in need and the Jew was the man with mercy, it may have only made the issue worse keeping Jew thinking he was better and the Samaritan was less of a man; that the Jew had something the Samaritan didn’t and needed. But because of his audience, Jesus turns the tables and makes the Jew the one in need. And who provides his need with compassion and care? That’s right, his enemy that he hates: “a despised Samaritan”. I can imagine at this point the Jewish hearers of this parable are pretty arrested in their hearts about their hatred toward their neighbors the Samaritans. Especially the law expert who originally asked the question.

Finally, I think Jesus makes it clear not only who are neighbors are (anyone in need, especially enemies in need) but how we can be good neighbors by showing mercy and compassion.

I see Jesus listing the traits of a good neighbor in the things that the Good Samaritan did for the Jew in need. I don’t think is a definitive, complete list of how to be a good neighbor as much as its a good example with general qualities.

What is a Good Neighbor Like?

  1. Second-nature immediate response of care for others – The Samaritan man was on a journey headed to Jericho, when he saw a need, immediately stopped to take care of it. He could have kept going thinking, “I’ve got business to tend to in Jericho and I don’t want to be late”. But his second-nature response of care for others kicked in. This is something my good friend and pastor Rob Wilkerson and his wife have taught me and lived out well.
  2. Feels Compassion – Unlike the others who passed the Jewish man by due to disgust, annoyance or maybe fear of consequences for helping an enemy, the Samaritan man saw him and “felt compassion on him”. No cost/benefit analysis was used, no praying for direction, no interrogation of the victim, just simple compassion. Jesus calls this mercy. The Samaritan man gave exactly what the Jew needed. And out of his own heart, gave compassion.
  3. Meets Needs – Immediately after feeling compassion, the Samaritan is moved to act. From feeling to doing, he begins to address the Jews immediate needs. He was beaten badly, so he dresses and cleans his wounds. Its pretty humbling cleaning up someone else, especially someone you don’t even know. Especially an enemy. Some of this even happened in the Civil War believe it or not.  At the end of the day, good neighbors can put aside differences and hostilities to meet each others’ needs. If not, then we’re not really neighbors but enemies afterall.
  4. Gives Sacrificially – After cleaning the Jew up, knowing he probably can’t walk at all from the beating, he puts him on his own donkey. This is giving sacrificially of his possessions. Then he takes him to a local inn to have him care for and pays the bill for any additional costs (health, food, housing, medicine, etc.). This is giving sacrificially of his time and money. Putting his money where his mouth is. So already this Samaritan is a day behind in his journey. But without a thought, he has given up his time, reputation, money, journey, desires and personal possessions to care for a man who probably hates him. Like I’ve heard before, it’s not giving if it doesn’t require you to sacrifice something.
  5. Personal Care – The text says, “he took him to the inn where he took care of him“. I don’t want to split hairs here, but it seems to say that the Samaritan took care of the Jew at the inn the first night. This shows a very personal, intimate care for the Jew. It would have been easy for the Samaritan to simply drop him off at the inn and leave money for the bill bidding the poor Jew good luck. But instead he spends the night with him, cares for him personally, then leaves the next day ensuring he’s cared for again. There’s something powerful about care and compassion when it’s personal. You can give a homeless man a dollar. You can give him a prayer. You can even take him to dinner. But invite him into your home and care for him yourself? That’s personal. And its powerful.
So if you’re like me and you start this parable with a finger pointed at the Jewish law expert and finish the story with the finger pointed back at yourself, don’t be condemned. There’s hope for us law men. Jesus is our supreme “good Samaritan” because he came to us when we were at our greatest need and showed us compassion and mercy. We were sworn enemies because of my sin against Him, but he put aside that broken relationship and forgave me those sins and cared for me because He loves me.
Its hard to read this parable and chock it up to a nice little story. This parable, as do all of Jesus’ teachings and commands, demand action! If you have ever asked, “well who is my neighbor?” You now know Jesus’ answer: everybody who is in need, especially enemies.
Go and be a good neighbor like Jesus and you’ll inherit eternal life!
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