The Goal of Neighborly Love
It started out just like any other morning. There was nothing to indicate that this day would change my life forever. At the time, I was a junior at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. And as many Christian colleges do, my school required its students to attend weekly chapel services. So that morning, I dragged myself out of bed, trudged across campus and slipped into the back of the gymnasium right as the chapel service began. I honestly wasn’t expecting to get much out of the service that day, but when the music ended and the guest preacher began to speak, the absurdity of his life trajectory grabbed my attention.
He said, “I grew up Amish. I was raised on a farm far removed from the hustle and bustle of city life. Yet God has called me to be a missionary in the city of Philadelphia. For the first time in history,” he went on to say, “more people live in cities than outside of them. Yet, in Philadelphia, my city, the city whose name boasts of brotherly love, Christians are fleeing to the suburbs as soon as they are economically able. This mass exodus is a tragedy. It should not be the case.” So with tears flowing from his eyes, he concluded, “Never forget. Never forget that the love of Christ beckons us to move towards need, not comfort.”
Upon hearing his testimony, I remarked to myself, “Man, if God can use an Amish man as an urban missionary, then He could even use me, a suburban boy.” Now, I thought I was just making an observation about how God can use anyone. But evidently, God thought I was volunteering for the job.
As soon as chapel ended, I joined the cattle herd of students all trying to squeeze through the gym doors and rush to class. As I pushed my way through the crowd, suddenly my friend Stephanie Morgan bumped into me. In a hurried voice, she said, “Hey Jason. I just signed you up to lead a Spring Break missions trip to Camden, New Jersey. Camden is officially ranked the worst city in the United States. They needed a leader for this trip, so I volunteered you. Don’t back out or they’ll have to cancel the trip. Besides, I know God’s calling you to this. Well, see ya later in math class!”
Sure enough, just three weeks later, there I stood in the middle of Camden, NJ. While there, I spent ten days with a community of Christians who had all left good paying jobs in order to move into Camden and live as Good Samaritans amongst their inner-city neighbors. These Christians had SEEN the plight of Camden’s residents; so they IMMERSED themselves into the lives and stories, the brokenness and pain of the people. And once there, this Christian community CONTENDED in multiple ways for the RESTORATION of their dying neighborhood.
For the past few weeks we’ve been studying Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan because we want to grow in our ability to love others well. And like that Christian community in Camden, the Good Samaritan offers us an easy-to-remember four-step process for loving others well. SEE, IMMERSE, CONTEND – and this week we add the final step – RESTORE. SEE, IMMERSE, CONTEND, RESTORE.
This morning, we’re going to discuss the step of restoration by examining what the parable of the Good Samaritan has to say about the shape and scope of neighborly love. The shape and scope of neighborly love.
So, let’s begin by reading through this parable one last time, starting with the question that prompted the parable in the first place. The account begins in Luke 10:25, and it reads:
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Now, when you hear the word lawyer, don’t picture the ancient equivalent of a personal injury lawyer, or corporate lawyer, or tax lawyer. He wasn’t that kind of lawyer. Rather, he was a scholar of the Mosaic Law. This man was a trained expert in Jewish religious law. In many ways, he was like a modern day theologian.
So, Luke writes that this lawyer stood up to test Jesus. In other words, the lawyer was confident that he already knew the correct answer. He simply wanted to evaluate whether or not Jesus shared his interpretation of the Scriptures.
But you shouldn’t test Jesus, cause Jesus has this amazing Jiu-Jitsu like move—nonviolent of course—where he takes the momentum of your offensive move and flips it right back at you. Your attempt to test Jesus backfires and suddenly you’re the one being tested! So, Jesus answered the lawyer’s question with a question:
26 [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 [To which the lawyer] answered, “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 neighbor as yourself.” 28 And [Jesus] said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
Well, the lawyer should have stopped there. But Luke writes that the lawyer wanted to justify himself. To prove that he excelled at loving his neighbor. So he pressed Jesus further: “And who is my neighbor?,” the lawyer asked.
Right away, Jesus recognized that embedded in this question is the false premise that only some people are to be treated in a neighborly way. By asking “Who is my neighbor?,” the lawyer was also asking, “Who is not my neighbor?”
So Jesus replied with this now famous parable:
30 “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. 31 Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 32 Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 33 A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion and went to him.
Parables Are Succinct:
Now, let’s pause here for a moment. Parables, as a teaching genre, are usually short and succinct. They don’t waste words. They are stripped of any unnecessary content so that those hearing the parable can better remember the story and its lesson. Parables are kept brief in order to be memorable.
In the portion of the parable we just read, Jesus does just this. He is incredibly succinct in his remarks. With just 56 words in the original Greek, Jesus has already set the scene on a dangerous road. He’s described the mugging of a traveler. He’s told of the priest and Levite’s failure to help. And he’s informed us that a Samaritan saw the wounded man, had compassion on him, and went to him. All that in just 56 words!
Jesus Slows Parable Down:
But then, Jesus slammed his foot on the brakes and slowed this rapidly moving parable down to a crawl. Jesus did this in order to provide a detailed assessment of how the Samaritan contended for the healing of the wounded man. It’s at this point in the parable that Jesus spent many words emphasizing the actual deeds of contending that were done. “Jesus described deed after deed, nine in total.” Listen carefully to this list for it reveals the primary shape of neighborly love:
34 The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’
Sacrificial & Selfless:
This here is a detailed description of the kind of love that Jesus calls us to extend to all people. And what I find fascinating about this list is that it places virtually no emphasis on the fact that the Samaritan’s deeds were selfless and sacrificial, even though those are the two attributes of neighborly love that we tend to emphasize. We like to suggest that the Samaritan risked his own life by going to the wounded man. Perhaps the thieves still lurked nearby. Yet, Jesus said nothing of this conjecture. We like to highlight that, by placing the wounded man on his own donkey, the Samaritan had to walk the whole distance to the inn. What a sacrificial act, we say. Yet, Jesus didn’t emphasize the sacrificial nature of this deed. We like to underscore how the Samaritan sacrificed much by donating two days average wage to this charitable cause. Yet, Jesus said nothing of whether or not such a donation emptied the Samaritan’s wallet or merely scratched the surface of a wealthy Samaritan’s abundant disposable income.
Did these nine deeds require the Samaritan to respond with selfless, sacrificial love? Absolutely. But Jesus did not emphasize the sacrificial and selfless nature of neighborly love, because neither describes the primary shape of neighborly love.
Christian ethicist Glen Stassen once made the same point this way: “Suppose the Samaritan saw the victim and had great compassion and said, ‘Oh how terrible! I feel so sorry for this man.’ So he pulled out his knife, stabbed himself in his heart and died side by side with the victim in the ditch.” Now, such a response would have been sacrificial and selfless. Yet it would have done nothing to contend for the restoration of the wounded man.
Samaritan Contended For Restoration:
When you look at the list of ways in which the Samaritan lovingly contended for this injured traveler, it quickly becomes apparent that each deed was motivated by a desire to see this man experience restoration. Now, obviously this wounded man needed his health restored. So, the Samaritan, bandaged his wounds, and poured oil and wine on them to fight against infection. But for this man’s health to be fully restored, he also needed a place to recuperate. So the Samaritan “put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn and took care of him.”
Yet there was another form of restoration that this wounded traveler desperately needed … one which we often overlook. “According to the law of the time, a person with an unpaid debt could be enslaved until the debt was paid. Since the injured man was robbed and stripped—deprived of all resources—he could have been at the mercy of the innkeeper. Yet innkeepers as a profession had a bad reputation in antiquity for dishonesty and violence.” By paying the bill, the Good Samaritan delivered the injured man from debt-enslavement and restored his status as a free man.
I want to submit for your consideration today that the chief quality of neighborly love is that it treats others in ways that promote their restoration. That’s its primary shape. In fact, the reason Jesus calls us to love others in ways that promote their restoration is because that’s the way He has loved us.
God’s Restorative Love:
The Bible is the nothing less than the story of how God has relentlessly contended for our restoration. For God so loved the world, that when He SAW our brokenness, He IMMERSED Himself into our world, and spent His whole life CONTENDING for our complete RESTORATION. Jesus Christ came to earth on a mission of restoration. He came to restore and make right all that was damaged and made wrong by the Fall … by our Fall. In fact, Jesus Christ is the great restorer of God’s original intensions for humanity. We are called to lovingly contend for the restoration of others because that’s what God in Christ has done and is doing for us.
The Scope of Neighborly Love:
So that’s the shape of neighborly love. But what about the scope of such love? How far must our neighborly concern extend? In other words, who are the ones that we must love in this restorative way? Well, let me end with a few brief remarks on this.
Jesus used the parable of the Good Samaritan to unambiguously declare that we are called to act neighborly to all people. Everyone. To teach this lesson, Jesus intentionally used an unidentifiable traveler. This man had been stripped naked, beaten and left unconscious on the side of the road. If this needy man still had clothing on, then perhaps his style of dress would have helped passersby determine his nationality. If the man was conscious and could actually speak, then perhaps his accent would have revealed which ethnic group he belonged to. If the man hadn’t been stripped of his possessions, then perhaps a head covering or some jewelry would have made it clear which religion he adhered to.
When the Levite and priest looked upon this unidentifiable man, they couldn’t determine if he was part of their group, their tribe, their religion. So they passed him by. Yet when the Samaritan looked upon this needy man, he recognized that there was still one thing, in fact only one thing, that could be known about the man. Jesus told this parable in such a way that all we know about the wounded traveler is that he was human. And that’s the point. We share a common humanity! The Samaritan saw this man’s humanity, and was moved to help because of it.
Martin Luther King Jr. once remarked, “Too seldom do we see people in their true humanness. We see people as Jews or Gentiles, Catholics or Protestants, [Christians or Muslims, White, Black or Hispanic]. Yet, we fail to think of them as fellow human beings made from the same basic stuff as we, molded in the same divine image.”
“Who is my neighbor?”, the lawyer asked. To which Jesus replied in essence, “I don’t know his name or nationality. I don’t know her religious affiliation or economic class. I don’t know his level of education or political leanings. I don’t even know whether the person tends to be kind and loving or evil and malicious. Who is my neighbor, you ask? Well, as Dr. King summarized, “He is anyone toward whom you are neighborly. He is anyone who lies in need at life’s roadside. He is any needy person on one of the numerous Jericho roads of life.” In other words, don’t limit the scope of your neighborly concern to just some. You are to lovingly contend for the restoration of everyone you meet.
So there you have it. Four weeks on the parable of the Good Samaritan. I hope this sermon series has helped each of us grow in our ability to love others well. To end the service today, Janis Street is going to come up and lead us in a time of recommitting ourselves to the task of actively supporting our foreign missionaries, both financially and through prayer. These are men and women who have answered God’s call on their lives to go and contend for the restoration of those living in a different part of the world. Let’s be part of their work that sees, immerses, and contends for the restoration of others. And let’s also dream together about how we might be good neighbors here in our own locality.