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Why do you ask

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Chris Remick, July 14, 2013

FIRST Read Luke 10: 25-29

10:25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

10:26 He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?"

10:27 He 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."

10:28 And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."

10:29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

Who is my neighbor? Do you really need to ask? Well, if you are a 1st century Jew and even if you are a 21st century American, yes, yes you might need to ask.

For that matter, as we'll see Jesus point out, there are many who will fill the role of neighbor in our lives.

In today's electronically connected world with high speed transportation, physical distance matters very little in determining who our friends are, in determining who we will call neighbors.

Maybe on Facebook we could start calling our connections "Neighbors" instead of "Friends". Just a thought, but let's get back on track.

The lawyer in our story was not a lawyer as you and I understand it but was more like a theologian and expert in Jewish ways guided by the law and the prophets.

For the Jews the law was also their religion and vice versa. So this lawyer or religious expert is checking Jesus out. He wants to know who Jesus is. Jesus has made a name for himself and has caught the lawyer's attention.

It's not exactly clear where and when this story takes place.

As Luke tells it, Jesus has been traveling around for a while now. He has done many miracles and has acquired quite a following with his teachings and healings. The people in the area have started noticing him. As we heard in the scriptures a couple weeks ago, the Samaritans rejected his request to come stay with them, because he was headed to Jerusalem.

My guess is they did not want any trouble. A prophet leading a group of people around praising him and declaring his kingship wass most likely going to be a red flag for the Roman occupiers, let alone the Jewish leaders. And marching this crowd to Jerusalem? That could only mean trouble.

The Samaritans had enough trouble with "Orthodox Jews" they didn't need to provoke them further by entertaining this "Jesus" from Nazareth.

Best let this Jesus and his crew move on.

So back to my point, Jesus has made a name for himself and caught the attention of the lawyer who tests Jesus' knowledge.

My heart burns a little as I hear the questions. It really bothers me to see someone try to trap someone else - which is what I think the lawyer is trying to do to Jesus.

On the other hand the questions could be meant as constructive. The lawyer could simply be engaging in an intellectual dialogue aimed at bringing forth the truth and enlightening all those who are present to hear it.

"So Jesus, I hear you have a good understanding of heaven and earth and how things work. What do you know about getting into heaven? How can I get eternal life?"

It's a legitimate question. Maybe a little unfair to start with something so broad and important.

Maybe it would have been nicer if the lawyer gave Jesus a multiple choice questionnaire on Judaic Common Core Standards just to pre-test if Jesus was ready for the big questions.

The lawyer being a true student would have a desire and a responsibility to his people to challenge this, "New on the scene prophet", who was gathering such a large flock. Was he preaching sound doctrine? Was he the real thing?

Even Jesus warns us that before his return there will be false prophets and false messiahs who will try to lead us astray.

So with that in mind I can give the lawyer the benefit of the doubt. I can forgive him my perceived impertinence in his questions to Jesus.

Jesus, as we would expect, handles the lawyer and his questions with grace, and answers him most eloquently. As a teacher, Jesus doesn't just give the guy the answer, he challenges him to draw the answer from what he already knows and has studied. Now the ball is in the lawyer's court. What do the scriptures say?

What a question. Jesus takes a real risk asking a scholar of scripture, "What do the scriptures say." This lawyer could have taken off with such a question and rattled on for hours on all he knew about Jewish law and heaven and eternal life. But the lawyer was shrewd. His answer is brief and to the point. He keeps the focus on Jesus and what he knows. The ball is back in Jesus court.

Although it was brief, the Lawyer's response is beautiful and in a way summarizes in a few words what the whole message of scripture is about. Love God, and Take Care of Each other.

All that God wants from us and all we need to reach Heaven is summed up in what the lawyer recites from Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 30:10) and Leviticus (Leviticus 19:18, 33-34) "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul", and "Love your neighbor as yourself"

Jesus acknowledges this correct answer and commends the Lawyer to, "Do This."

But the lawyer is not satisfied and presses further. Luke tells us the lawyer needs to "Justify himself" implying that to some extent the lawyer has been "Doing this" but isn't sure he is doing it well enough.

He focuses on the "Loving your neighbor part, and asks, "Who is my neighbor?"

So Jesus tells the parable: Luke 10:30-37

10:30 Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.

10:31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

10:32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

10:33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.

10:34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

10:35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.'

10:36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?"

10:37 He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

Two of the Lawyer's expected heroes fail him. People he would normally call neighbors failed to do the neighborly thing, but the Samaritan, The SAMARITAN acts rightly.

Now this had to be a slap in the face to the lawyer. Samaritans were socially outcast and disdained by the Jews. Making the Samaritan the hero of the story was a big point for Jesus. It expanded the neighborhood into uncomfortable places for the lawyer and the other Jews who were listening.

But look at how Jesus has turned things around. The scriptures and the lawyer say, to "Love your neighbor as yourself." The question was, "Who is my neighbor?"

But Jesus does not point to the neighbor. He does not ask the lawyer to identify the character in the story who HE would call neighbor. Jesus asks the lawyer to point to the defining neighborly action. Which one acted as a neighbor to the man in the ditch? Note that the neighbor was defined as the GIVER of love not the recipient.

The situation defined the call for neighborly love. And the love for the neighbor was demonstrated by the appropriate response to the situation.

Neighbors are not defined by physical proximity, but rather by the opportunities present to share compassion as both the giver and receiver.

Loving your neighbor is an expression of love for another driven by and fueled by loving God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. When you have this love for God, then you will know your neighbors and how to truly love them as yourself.


Jesus came to our neighborhood. He walked with us, taught us and celebrated with us. And he saw us in our ditches beside the road broken, naked, and afraid.

Like the Samaritan on that road to Jericho he continues to do the neighborly thing by lifting us up, cleaning our wounds, bringing us to safety, feeding us, and paying our bill so that the Holy Spirit might care for us until his return.

By dying for us on the cross, Jesus paid our way to a new life. Let us be gracious neighbors and accept Jesus expression and example of neighborly love.

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, teach us to live in your neighborhood. As you have taught us, we pray that your kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. Let it be lord. Teach us how to love you as you have loved us. Teach us how to love each other as neighbors in your kingdom on earth. In your name we pray, Amen.