Neighbors

I.      Introduction

Sometimes it’s difficult to teach a familiar parable; we have pre-conceived notions, or perhaps previous bible studies left in our heads.  The Prodigal Son, the Lost Sheep, the Faithful Servant, the Ten Virgins, and so on.  Even non-Christians have heard the phrase “good Samaritan.”  Let’s see if we can look at this parable with fresh eyes today, and see if perhaps we’ve become complacent, and really look to see if there is an application for us today.

Through a powerful parable, Jesus lets us know that the good Samaritan exemplifies an important facet of the Christian character: How to be a good neighbor.  So what makes a good neighbor?  Someone who sells State Farm insurance?  You know, “And like a good neighbor….”

I have a neighbor, sometimes I think we’re competing with, and losing to.  On the day we moved into our new house in Sugar Land, it took longer than we thought it would.  The truck wasn’t quite big enough, so it was like after 9pm when we started the second run back to the old townhome. Our next door neighbor Fai stopped by to meet us, found out we hadn’t had any dinner, and immediately brought over dinner for the both of us.  And she hasn’t stopped, she brings vegetables from her garden, she weeds our garden, she sweeps our sidewalks, and so on.  And if we should every try to do something kind for her, she redoubles her effort to bring us groceries.  Everybody should have a neighbor like Fai.

Who is a neighbor?  Or for that matter, who is a Samaritan?

The Jews considered the Samaritans to be a corrupted religion that in many ways mirrored Judaism.  Well, “corrupted” might a kind way of putting it.  One text I read said the Jews considered the Samaritans as ignorant, superstitious mongrels.  Way back in 2 Kings 17, the Assyrians conquered Northern Israel, killing most of the people living there.  Anybody who survived were taken away to foreign lands, and eventually became known as “the lost tribes of Israel.”  Only a few stragglers, mostly poor, sick or unskilled people, were left behind with Israeli identity or culture.  To finish them off, the Assyrians sent five eastern pagan tribes to settle in Northern Israel and intermingle.  They became a sort of hybrid people, part Israeli, part pagan.  They developed their own customs; they still worshipped Yahweh, but their holy books were in Aramaic, not Hebrew, and didn’t contain many books the Jews had, especially the poetic and prophetic books of the Hebrew scriptures.  They eventually became known as the Samaritans.  They built their temple to the Lord on Mount Gerizim instead of Jerusalem, which irritated the Jews, so the Jews destroyed Mount Gerizim in 128 BC.  Here’s an account from Ezra 4:1-3 –

Now when the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the people of the exile were building a temple to the Lord God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ households, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for like you, we seek your God; and we have been sacrificing to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us up here.”  But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of fathers’ households of Israel said to them, “You have nothing in common with us in building a house to our God; but we ourselves will together build for the Lord God of Israel, just as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, has commanded us.”

The Jews tell the Samarians to get lost.  Now, the Samarians weren’t much nicer, here’s an account from Nehemiah 4:1-3 –

Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry, and he mocked the Jews.  And he spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy people of Samaria and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore the temple for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish it in a day? Can they revive the stones from the heaps of rubble, even the burned ones?”  Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him, and he said, “Even what they are building—if a fox were to jump on it, it would break their stone wall down!”

Jews and Samaritans were at odds with each other for centuries.

So you see, “good Samaritan” was an unlikely phrase.  Jews expected animosity from Samaritans.  To the Jews, there was no such thing as a good Samaritan.  But funny thing about people, they’re all made in God’s image, and Jesus didn’t feel the same way about the Samaritans.  Or the Gentiles, fortunately.  Later, in Acts 1:8, Jesus will tell his disciples,

“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

God still had a great deal of affection for the Samaritans.

So we begin our study, starting at Luke 9:51 –

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

I love that part – Jesus is on a mission, determined to go to Jerusalem, and teach all along the way.

And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.  When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”  But Jesus turned and rebuked them.  Then he and his disciples went to another village.

There’s a lot of new perspective here – the disciples wanted to rain down fire and destroy the Samaritans, the Samaritans not especially happy with Jesus going to Jerusalem to the temple there.  And Jesus seems concerned about the Samaritans, even when His disciples don’t.

II.      Follow the Scripture, Luke 10:25-28

So Jesus resolutely continues to Jerusalem, teaching along the way, until one day a lawyer stands up to question Jesus.  It’s a trick question from a lawyer, but I repeat myself.  It’s designed to trip Jesus.  Turn to Luke 10:25-28 –

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied.  “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘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 neighbor as yourself.'”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied.  “Do this and you will live.”

The lawyer didn’t just ask a question, this isn’t idle curiosity.  The lawyer “stood up to test him.”  The lawyer has a serious question, knows the law, but he wants to see if Jesus is authentic.  He’s challenging Jesus.  He wants to know, “What does Jesus know?”

And it’s one of the great questions of all religions.  What must I do to live an eternal life?  What happens when I die?  What must I do, what must I say, how should I act, what do I believe?  It’s an expert question, coming from an expert lawyer.  What must I do?

Jesus responded like a rabbi, and answered the question with a question of his own.  Now Jesus is testing the tester.  Jesus challenged the lawyer back, but to answer his own question from scripture.

The first part of the lawyer’s answer comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-9,

“Hear, Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.  And you shall repeat them diligently to your sons and speak of them when you sit in your house, when you walk on the road, when you lie down, and when you get up.  You shall also tie them as a sign to your hand, and they shall be as frontlets on your forehead.  You shall also write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

This is what the Jews would understand as the Shema Yisrael, or just Shema.  Shema Yisrael means, “Hear oh Israel,” and observant Jews would say this prayer as part of their morning and evening prayers.  The Shema encouraged Jews to love God, and it was a twice daily affirmation of God’s place in their lives.

Notice that it doesn’t just say to love *the* Lord God.  It says to love the Lord *your* God.  It’s personal, the relationship between you and your Creator.  Love Him with everything you have, with your whole person.  Heart, soul, strength, and mind.  Love God with your emotions (heart), your consciousness (soul), your motivation (strength), and your mental capacity (mind).

The second half of our lawyer’s question is much like the first.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  This comes from Leviticus 19:18 –

You shall not take vengeance, nor hold any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.

Not a selfish love, or a love of oneself, but how much you love others based on how much God loves you.  A “neighbor” means someone of our own kind, not an outsider.  Sometimes it’s hard to grasp that this outside we pass by on the other side of the road is not an outsider to God.  God loves everyone, not just believers.  God gave His life to us while we were still unbelievers, still sinners.

Some have misinterpreted the scripture here.  What must I *do* to inherit eternal life?  Do this and live.  Is this a philosophy of works?  Is there a way we can earn our way into heaven by a life of good works and good deeds?  No, there is not – our works, our deeds, even our very selves are like worthless rags compared to the almighty glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But because we love Him with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, we *do* these things to show this love to others.  Our feisty lawyer answered correctly, but he did not affirm a theology of works.

Jesus said, “Do this and live.”  This is what Jesus means by abundant life.  Practice what you know out of love for your Lord, expressed as love for others.  The real test is a right heart with God, not knowledge or works, but putting into practice, love in action, a grateful response to God’s love.

III.      Listen to Jesus, Luke 10:29-35

Was our feisty expert embarrassed by Jesus’ response?  And if so, did he feel the need to repair his reputation?  Or was he trying to find out whether there were any limits?  In other word, how much is enough to get into Heaven?  The lawyer asked a follow-up question, “who is my neighbor?”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

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.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  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.  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 question from the lawyer implied some people could be excluded from Heaven.  Gentiles, Samaritans, tax collectors.  In this case, especially exclude those backward, disgusting Samaritans.  I mean, certainly we can exclude those people, right?

Who do we exclude today, that we do not consider a neighbor?  Are we putting a limit on God’s love?

Jesus didn’t answer directly, He told a parable that illustrated what it meant to demonstrate the love of God.  Who was the traveler?  We don’t know, he’s never identified.  Might be a Jew, maybe a Gentile, might even be a Samaritan?  The only thing we know for sure is that the traveler is human and therefore made in God’s image.

This man was beaten by robbers on the road from Jerusalem.  This would have been a well-known road for the Jews, from Jerusalem 2500’ ASL to Jericho which is actually below sea level, winding through mountains and rocky terrain with many hiding places for robbers.  The man was not just robbed, but stripped of his clothing and beaten and left for dead.  The attitude expressed by the robbers is, “What’s yours is mine, and I’ll take it.”

What were the motivations of the priest and Levite?  Jesus doesn’t say.  The priest may have refused because the man was dead, didn’t want to defile himself.  Touching a corpse would have entailed a lengthy cleanliness process to become pure again.  We don’t really know their motivation.  Bottom line, though, is it doesn’t really matter.  Whatever the motivation was, it was a convenient excuse to absolve them from being a good neighbor.  Both the priest and the Levite considered themselves religious people, knew the “love your neighbor” statement.  And both refused to help.

In fact, they went out of their way to avoid helping.  They passed by on other side.  The priest and the Levite expressed an attitude of, “What’s mine is mine, and I’ll keep it.”  This attitude is hardly better than, and in many ways worse, than the robbers who beat the man up.

But the Samaritan helped.  This startled the listeners.  This *Samaritan*, they would have spit out, isn’t Jewish, isn’t to be trusted, doesn’t know the law… but he was helpful.  The Jews expected animosity, but received compassion instead.  In fact, this Samaritan gave up his own ride for the injured man, and in so doing expressed an attitude more pleasing to God, “What’s mine is yours, and I’ll give it to you.”

We can’t help everyone, of course.  Our resources are limited, we have to pick and choose.  But on what basis do we pick and choose?  Do we withhold our help from outsiders just because they’re outsiders?  They are not outsiders to God.  Who we are neighborly to should not depend on whether they are outsiders to us.  Jesus admonishes us to do this and live, practice what we know, put love in action.  Our salvation involves faith expressing love to God and neighbor.  James 2:15-17 says it this way –

If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?  In the same way, faith also, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

 Faith that does not show itself to our neighbor is dead.

IV.      Show Compassion, Luke 10:36-37

Jesus turned the question around perfectly, of course.  The lawyer had asked, “who is my neighbor?”  Jesus answered by describing who *is* a neighbor.  In other words, the lawyer asked about others, who qualifies to be his neighbor.  Jesus answered by examining the heart of person asking the question.

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

So Jesus challenged the lawyer.  Now who is your neighbor?  While the lawyer tried to enact boundaries, Jesus used this parable to remove boundaries.  A merciful God we should imitate by showing mercy.  Go and do likewise.  Any person in need gives you a chance to show you are a good neighbor and being the hands and feet of Jesus.

Emergencies aren’t always convenient.  They don’t happen at planned times.  I suppose if we could plan them, they wouldn’t be emergencies.  Diane and I were coming home from San Antonio, driving along I-10, in a section under construction with those long concrete barriers on each side.  And we’re cruising along at a respectable 70mph when the car in front of us drifts to the left and scrapes up the entire left of the car against the concrete, then drifts to the right and does the same before coasting to a stop.  We stopped, too, completely blocking all traffic on I-10.  The car in front of the damages car also stopped.  I was amazed at how many miracles God worked that day.  The car in front that stopped had an EMT in the front passenger seat.  Diane and I called 9-1-1 before the cars even stopped.  And once the man was on the concrete freeway on his back getting CPR, on his from seat was his cell phone.  Unlocked.  It only had a single contact on his phone, labeled “wife”.  We were able to notify her and keep her informed and tell her which hospital they were going to take her husband to.

I think about an example from Jesus about showing compassion even at inconvenient times.  In Mathew 14 is the story of Herod and John the Baptist.  John apparently had been hanging around outside Herod’s place, telling Herod that there was something wrong with Herod for taking his brother’s wife.  I can’t help but think of how awkward that would be at family get-togethers, Herod and Philip and Philip’s wife Herodias.  John the Baptist is outside telling Herod that fooling around with your sister-in-law is wrong.  So one night after dinner and dancing by Herod’s daughter, Herod decides to behead John the Baptist.  John’s disciples buried the body and then came to tell Jesus.

Look what it says in Matthew 14:13-14 –

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.  When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

John the Baptist is the second cousin of Jesus, and John was the one that paved the way for him, a voice crying out in the wilderness.  You know Jesus is grieving the loss of John.  And yet, He found the time and energy for compassion at that moment, to heal the sick people that had come to see Him.

Our role model for compassion is God.  We were sinners, opposed to God, but He showed compassion for us, even while we opposed him.

Compassion isn’t obligation; compassion isn’t doing something out of duty.  Compassion isn’t even caring for somebody or taking care of them when they’re hurt. 

I went looking for the root word of “compassion,” and found enough to rethink my idea of what compassion is.  The root words in Latin are “cum”, which means “with” or “along side”.  “Passion” originally didn’t mean anything like the ardent love we associate it with today, it comes from the Latin “pati” which means “to suffer.”  It’s the same root word that gives us a hospital “patient,” somebody suffering.  So how did we associate this with passionate love?  Perhaps from the “Passion of the Christ,” the suffering Christ went through on our behalf.  Christ’s love and suffering, His passion.

So “compassion” means to suffer together.  It’s not just caring for somebody.  It’s suffering with them, making their pain also your pain.  How difficult is that to love a neighbor that much that we would suffer as though their pain is ours.

One of the clearest examples of compassion was Mother Teresa.  Nobel prize winner, she eventually opened 517 missions in more than 100 countries.  One of her early ministries confounded people in Calcutta, to help people nobody else would help.  Poor people dying of Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy.  These people, even if they lived, would still be a burden on society.  Mother Teresa converted an abandoned Hindu temple into a free hospice, the first Home for the Dying.  People brought here received medical care and given an opportunity to die with dignity.  Hindus received water from the Ganges, Catholics received Last Rites, Muslims were read to from the Quran.  “A beautiful death,” she said, “is for people who lived like animals to die like angels — loved and wanted.”

In a book about her life, “Mother Teresa, In My Own Words,” are hundreds of inspiring stories and quotes from this amazing woman.  She said,

“Someone once told me that not even for a million dollars would they touch a leper.  I responded: ‘Neither would I.  If it were a case of money, I would not even do it for two million.  On the other hand, I do it gladly for love of God.'”

She was truly a person of compassion, demonstrating God’s love daily and seeing God in those suffering.

            V.      Conclusion

So who is your neighbor?  How can you love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind?  Do they have a need, and can you go beyond the “bring them a casserole” and truly show compassion, to suffer along with them, to bear their pain?  The story of the Good Samaritan tells us that we are challenged to be the good neighbor, regardless of their culture or how we feel about them.  To show compassion for those around us, in glorious imitation of the compassion Jesus showed for us. 

As He loved us, let us love others.

To God be the Glory.

Amen

Be a Good Neighbor

I. Introduction

Sometimes it’s difficult to teach a familiar parable; we have pre-conceived notions, or perhaps previous bible studies left in our heads. The Prodigal Son, the Lost Sheep, the Faithful Servant, the Ten Virgins, and so on. Even non-Christians have heard the phrase “good Samaritan.” Let’s see if we can look at this parable with fresh eyes today, and see if perhaps we’ve become complacent, and really look to see if there is an application for us today.

Through a powerful parable, Jesus lets us know that the good Samaritan exemplifies an important facet of the Christian character: How to be a good neighbor. So what makes a good neighbor? Someone who sells State Farm insurance? You know, “And like a good neighbor….”

Who has a neighbor that they consider to be a good neighbor? What makes that neighbor special to you?

I have a neighbor, sometimes I think we’re competing with, and losing to. On the day we moved into our new house in Sugar Land, it took longer than we thought it would. The truck wasn’t quite big enough, so it was like after 9pm when we started the second run back to the old townhome. Our next door neighbor Fai stopped by to meet us, found out we hadn’t had any dinner, and immediately brought over dinner for the both of us. And she hasn’t stopped, she brings vegetables from her garden, she weeds our garden, she sweeps our sidewalks, and so on. And if we should every try to do something kind for her, she redoubles her effort to bring us groceries. Everybody should have a neighbor like Fai.

Who is a neighbor? Or for that matter, who is a Samaritan?

The Jews considered the Samaritans to be a corrupted religion that in many ways mirrored Judaism. Well, “corrupted” might a kind way of putting it. One text I read said the Jews considered the Samaritans as ignorant, superstitious mongrels. Way back in 2 Kings 17, the Assyrians conquered Northern Israel, killing most of the people living there. Anybody who survived we taken away to foreign lands, and eventually became known as “the lost tribes of Israel.” Only a few stragglers, mostly poor, sick or unskilled people, were left behind with Israeli identity or culture. To finish them off, the Assyrians sent five eastern pagan tribes to settle in Northern Israel and intermingle. They became a sort of hybrid people, part Israeli, part pagan. They developed their own customs; they still worshipped Yahweh, but their holy books were in Aramaic, not Hebrew, and didn’t contain many books the Jews had, especially the poetic and prophetic books of the Hebrew scriptures. They eventually became known as the Samaritans. They built their temple to the Lord on Mount Gerizim instead of Jerusalem, which irritated the Jews, so the Jews destroyed Mount Gerizim in 128 b.c. In both the books of Ezra 4:1-3 and Nehamiah 4:1-2, Jews and Samaritans were at odds with each other.

So you see, “good Samaritan” was an unlikely phrase. Jews expected animosity from Samaritans. To the Jews, there was no such thing as a good Samaritan. But funny thing about people, they’re all made in God’s image, and Jesus didn’t feel the same way about the Samaritans. Or the Gentiles, fortunately. Later, in Acts 1:8, Jesus will tell his disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” God still had a great deal of affection for the Samaritans.

So we begin our study, starting at Luke 9:51 –

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

I love that part – Jesus is on a mission, determined to go to Jerusalem, and teach all along the way.

And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.

There’s a lot of new perspective here – the disciples wanted to rain down fire and destroy the Samaritans, the Samaritans not especially happy with Jesus going to Jerusalem to the temple there. And Jesus seems concerned about the Samaritans, even when His disciples don’t.

II. Follow the Scripture, Luke 10:25-28

So Jesus resolutely continues to Jerusalem, teaching along the way, until one day a lawyer stands up to question Jesus. It’s a trick question from a lawyer, but I repeat myself. It’s designed to trip Jesus. Turn to Luke 10:25-28 –

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘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 neighbor as yourself.'”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

The lawyer didn’t just ask a question, this isn’t idle curiousity. The lawyer “stood up to test him.” The lawyer has a serious question, knows the law, but he wants to see if Jesus is authentic. He’s challenging Jesus. What does Jesus know?

And it’s one of the great questions of all religions. What must I do to live an eternal life? What happens when I die? What must I do, what must I say, how should I act, what do I believe? It’s an expert question, coming from an expert lawyer. What must I do?

Jesus responded like a rabbi, and answered the question with a question of his own. Now Jesus is testing the tester. Jesus challenged the lawyer back, but to answer his own question from scripture.

The first part of the lawyer’s answer comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, what the Jews would understand as the Shema Yisrael, or just Shema. Shema Yisrael means, “Hear oh Israel,” and observant Jews would say this prayer as part of their morning and evening prayers. The Shema encouraged Jews to love God, and it was a twice daily affirmation of God’s place in their lives.

Notice that it doesn’t just say to Love the Lord God. It says to love the Lord *your* God. It’s personal, the relationship between you and your Creator. Love Him with everything you have, with your whole person. Heart, soul, strength, and mind. Love God with your emotions (heart), your consciousness (soul), your motivation (strength), and your mental capacity (mind).

Some have misinterpreted the scripture here. What must I *do* to inherit eternal life? Do this and live. Is this a philosophy of works? Is there a way we can earn our way into heaven by a life of good works and good deeds? No, there is not – our works, our deeds, even our very selves are like worthless rags compared to the almighty glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. But because we love Him with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, we *do* these things to show this love to others. Our feisty lawyer answered correctly, but he did not affirm a theology of works.

Jesus said, “Do this and live.” This is abundant life. Practice what you know out of love for Lord, expressed as love for others. The real test is a right heart with God, not knowledge or works, but putting into practice, love in action, a grateful response to God’s love.

III. Listen to Jesus, Luke 10:29-35

Was our feisty expert embarrassed by Jesus’ response? And if so, did he feel the need to repair his reputation? Or was he trying to find out whether there were any limits? In other word, how much is enough to get into Heaven? The lawyer asked a follow-up question, “who is my neighbor?”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

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. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 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. 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 question from the lawyer implied some people could be excluded. Gentiles, Samaritans, tax collectors. In this case, especially those backward, disgusting Samaritans. I mean, certainly we can exclude those people, right?

Who do we exclude today, that we do not consider a neighbor? Are we putting a limit on God’s love?

Jesus didn’t answer directly, told a parable that illustrated what it meant to demonstrate the love of God. Who was the traveler? We don’t know, he’s never identified. Might be a Jew, maybe a Gentile, might even be a Samaritan? The only thing we know for sure is that the traveler is human and therefore made in God’s image.

This man was beaten by robbers on the road from Jerusalem. This would have been a well-know road for the Jews, from Jerusalem 2500’ ASL to Jericho which is actually below sea level, winding through mountains and rocky terrain with many hiding places for robbers. The man was not just robbed, but stripped of his clothing and beaten and left for dead. The attitude expressed by the robbers is, “What’s yours is mine, and I’ll take it.”

What were the motivations of the priest and Levite? Jesus doesn’t say. Priest may have refused because the man was dead, didn’t want to defile himself. Touching a corpse would have entailed a lengthy cleanliness process to become pure again. We don’t really know their motivation. Bottom line, though, is it doesn’t really matter. Whatever the motivation was, it was a convenient excuse to absolve them from being a good neighbor. Both the priest and the Levite considered themselves religious people, knew the love your neighbor statement. And both refused to help.

In fact, they went out of their way to avoid helping. They passed by on other side. The priest and the Levite expressed an attitude of, “What’s mine is mine, and I’ll keep it.” This attitude is hardly better than, and in many ways worse, than the robbers who beat the man up.

But the Samaritan helped. This startled the listeners. This *Samaritan*, they would have spit out, isn’t Jewish, isn’t to be trusted, doesn’t know the law… but he was helpful. The Jews expected animosity, but received compassion instead. In fact, this Samaritan gave up his own ride for the injured man, and in so doing expressed an attitude more pleasing to God, “What’s mine is yours, and I’ll give it.”

The second half of our lawyer’s question is much like the first. Love your neighbor as yourself. This comes from Leviticus 19:18. Not a selfish love, or a love of oneself, but how much you love others based on how much God loves you. A “neighbor” means someone of our own kind, not an outsider. Sometimes it’s hard to grasp that this outside we pass by on the other side of the road is not an outsider to God. God loves everyone, not just believers. God gave His life to us while we were still unbelievers, still sinners.

We can’t help everyone, of course. Our resources are limited, we have to pick and choose. But on what basis do we pick and choose? Do we withhold our help from outsiders just because they’re outsiders? They are not outsiders to God. Who we are neighborly to should not depend on this. Jesus admonishes us to do this and live, practice what we know, put love in action. Our salvation involves faith expressing love to God and neighbor. James 2:17 says that faith that does not show itself to our neighbor is dead.

IV. Show Compassion, Luke 10:36-37

Jesus turned the question around perfectly, of course. The lawyer had asked, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered by describing who *is* a neighbor. In other words, the lawyer asked about others, who qualifies to be his neighbor. Jesus answered by examining the heart of person asking the question.

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

So Jesus challenged the lawyer. Now who is your neighbor? While the lawyer tried to enact boundaries, Jesus used this parable to remove boundaries. A merciful God we should imitate by showing mercy. Go and do likewise. Any person in need gives you a chance to show you are a good neighbor and being the hands and feet of Jesus.

Emergencies aren’t always convenient. They don’t happen at planned times. I suppose if we could plan them, they wouldn’t be emergencies. I think about another example from Jesus about showing compassion even at inconvenient times. In Mathew 14 is the story of Herod and John the Baptist. John apparently had been hanging around outside Herod’s place, telling Herod that there was something wrong with Herod for taking his brother’s wife. I can’t help but think of how awkward that would be at family get-togethers, Herod and Philip and Philip’s wife Herodias. So one night after dinner and dancing by Herod’s daughter, Herod decides to behead John the Baptist. John’s disciples buried the body and then came to tell Jesus.

Look what it says in Matthew 14:13-14 –

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

John is the second cousin of Jesus, and John was the one that paved the way for him, a voice crying out in the wilderness. You know Jesus is grieving the loss of John. And yet, He found the time and energy for compassion at that moment, to heal the sick people that had come to see Him.

Our role model for compassion is God. We were sinners, opposed to God, but He showed compassion for us, even while we opposed him.

Compassion isn’t obligation; compassioning isn’t doing something out of duty. Compassioning isn’t even caring for somebody or taking care of them when they’re hurt.

I went looking for the root word of “compassion,” and found enough to rethink my idea of what compassion is. The root words in Latin are “cum”, which means “with” or “along side”. “Passion” originally didn’t mean anything like the ardent love we associate it with today, it comes from the Latin “pati” which means “to suffer.” It’s the same root word that gives us a hospital “patient,” somebody suffering. So how did we associate this with passionate love? Perhaps from the “Passion of the Christ,” the suffering Christ went through on our behalf. Christ’s love and suffering, His passion.

So “compassion” means to suffer together. It’s not just caring for somebody. It’s suffering with them, making their pain also your pain. How difficult is that to love a neighbor that much that we would suffer as though their pain is ours.

One of the clearest examples of compassion was Mother Teresa. Nobel prize winner, she eventually opened 517 missions in more than 100 countries. One of her early ministries confounded people in Calcutta, to help people nobody else would help. Poor people dying of Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy. These people, even if they lived, would still be a burden on society. Mother Teresa converted an abandoned Hindu temple into a free hospice, the first Home for the Dying. People brought here received medical care and given an opportunity to die with dignity. Hindus received water from the Ganges, Catholics received Last Rites, Muslims were read to from the Quran. “A beautiful death,” she said, “is for people who lived like animals to die like angels — loved and wanted.”

In a book about her life, “Mother Teresa, In My Own Words,” are hundreds of inspiring stories and quotes from this amazing woman. She said, “Someone once told me that not even for a million dollars would they touch a leper. I responded: ‘Neither would I. If it were a case of money, I would not even do it for two million. On the other hand, I do it gladly for love of God.'” She was truly a person of compassion, demonstrating God’s love daily and seeing God in those suffering.

V. Conclusion

So who is your neighbor? How can you love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind? Do they have a need, and can you go beyond the “bring them a casserole” and truly show compassion, to suffer along with them, to bear their pain? The story of the Good Samaritan tells us that we are challenged to be the good neighbor, regardless of their culture or how we feel about them. To show compassion for those around us, in glorious imitation of the compassion Jesus showed for us. As He loved us, let us love others.

Amen

Compassionate Action

I. Introduction

It’s difficult to see God at work sometimes, isn’t it? Unanswered prayers, world hunger, wars. Our own lives, sickness, injuries. Let’s start off today with a list of problems. Things that we believe God should solve, should do differently. Some big “why” questions. I’ll start off with a couple.

What’s up with that earthquake in Haiti? Why is Charlotte’s leg taking so long to heal? Why hasn’t my son turned toward Christ? If we are adopted children, why doesn’t God answer His children right away when we are troubled or in pain?

Just because we do not see God at work, we can know that God is indeed always at work, and He does it consistently and faithfully. And oddly enough, through very flawed people.

We begin a study of Exodus today that is an extension of the book of Genesis. We know that Moses was the author (Exodus 24:4, “And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord.” There are multiple Old Testament and New Testament passages that identify Moses as the God-inspired human writer of this book; Joshua 8:32, 1 Kings 2:3, Daniel 9:11, Mark 7:10, Mark 12:26 and Luke 2:22-23. Most history scholars, like Chris, piece together passages such as 1 Kings 6:1 and believe the book was written after 1446 B.C., about the time I was born.

The word “exodus” means exit or departure, and this book’s purpose is to document God’s deliverance of His people. God made a covenant promise to Abraham, and God always fulfills His promise. God freed the Jews from slavery, led the through the wilderness, and established a holy nation.

How long could we spend in Exodus? I found the long term curriculum for our bible studies; our classes will study every single book in the bible in seven years, then I suppose we’ll repeat. That’s both good and bad; good that we’ll study the whole bible, but bad that we have to fly through the bible. We’ll even get to Leviticus beginning in May, and I’ve been joking lately that I’ll give an entire lesson on the evils of shellfish. We’ll see if that really happens. The book of Exodus covers many familiar stories; Moses’ birth and floating down the river in a basket of reeds, the 7 plagues upon Egypt and the confrontation with Pharaoh, the parting of the red sea, wandering in the desert, bringing the ten commandments down from the mountain.

What else? (golden calf, burning bush, … ). Anybody remember that movie with Charles Heston? 1956, Ten Commandments, Yul Brynner as the bald Pharaoh?

Today, we’re studying Exodus 1-4. Zoom. But our study today is going to focus on God’s compassion and his actions and God works through very flawed people like you and me. Ok, flawed people like me. Ok, nobody’s like me. You know what I mean.

I may be a mess, but so was Moses. If you recall at the end of Genesis, Jacob, after having been thrown down a well, rescued by a caravan, spent time in Pharaoh’s house, then prison, then rose to power under Pharaoh after interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, then during the famine brought Jacob’s brothers to live with him in Egypt – remember all that? Am I going to fast? Anyway, that’s how Jacob and his family of 70 came to live in Egypt.

For many years, the Hebrews were treated well and lived in peace among the Egyptians, and their numbers grew. So much so that when a new king came to power in Egypt, he forgot about the historical relationship between Egypt and Jacob and instead feared the numbers of Jews. Out of fear, he enslaved the Hebrews. They still grew in numbers, and that’s when the king gave the order for all newborn Jewish males to be killed to decrease their number. Moses’ mother, to save him, put Moses in a basket and floated him down the river, and one of the Egyptian king’s daughters found Moses and took him in.

So Moses, instead of being killed by Pharaoh ended up being raised by Pharaoh. I like God’s sense of humor. Anyway, Moses grows up into an adult and goes out to watch the Hebrews work at hard labor. The movie showed Moses as a capable leader of the Egyptians construction and compassionate for the Hebrews, but Exodus 2:11 doesn’t really say that. It appears to me Moses is just watching for entertainment. But when he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, Moses kills the Egyptians and buried him under some sand.

But word got around the Hebrews that Moses had killed someone, and Pharaoh found out and tried to kill Moses. Here is a messed up individual; he’s a murderer, no family of his own, and not welcome by either the Hebrews or the Egyptians. And so Moses flees to Midian, probably the other side of the desert near the Arabian peninsula. Banished, outcast, he spends 40 years in exile. Later we find out he also has a speech impediment. How can God use such a flawed man like Moses? And what happened to that covenant promise with Abraham, anyway? Where is God?

I can identify with these questions. There are times in my life I wonder where God is. He is a God of miracles, of compassion, of mercy, is He not? What about those unanswered prayers and sickness and wars and hunger we talked about earlier. Where is God?

II. Exodus 2:23-25, God Takes Notice

Exodus 2:23-25,

During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.

As long as the Pharaohs remembered how Joseph had saved Egypt from the famine, the Hebrews were treated well. But those days had long passed. The Israelites groaned in their slavery.

God has a plan and His timetable often isn’t clear to us, especially when we are waiting on Him. I note a multitude of lessons and timing underway here, and God is patiently waiting for His plan. I’ve learned that God often waits until we hit rock bottom before answering. Sometimes we may feel we hit rock bottom and then start digging. We are learning what the Israelites are learning; where does your help come from? For a time, their help came from the Egyptians who gave them land. Should the Israelites depend on the Egyptians for help? The Israelites are enslaved; can they provide their own help?

Psalm 121:1-2,

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

Ultimately, this is the only place our help can come from. We might pray and say we depend on the Lord, but do we really? When things get tough, when we feel we are hitting bottom, what are we depending on? Our job, our savings, our own strength, our health, our friends, our family, our charisma?

Whatever we’re depending on is what God wants us to stop depending on. Lean on Him. When we are dependent on someone or something else, we are not practicing faith. We’re idol worshipping. My job is my god. My health is my god. My house is my god. In order for us to learn that our help comes from the Lord, sometimes we must first learn where our help does not come from. Everything else can let us down.

While Israel moaned in slavery, Moses was learning humility. Forty years in exile because he took matter into his own hands, killing the Egyptian. When did God tell Moses to kill an Egyptian? Pompous adopted son of a Pharaoh, taking justice into his own hands, but learning humility in exile. Moses wasn’t in charge. God is. Moses was learning that when one is full of pride, God cannot use you. When you have pride, you are saying that you know best, you don’t need to ask God, you can be your own God.

But Proverbs 3:34,

God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.

But now, forty years later, the Pharaoh that wanted to kill Moses is dead. And Moses is no longer prideful, but humble. And Israel is crying out for help. It’s God’s timing to bring these two together, and God remembers His promise to Abraham.

III. Exodus 3:1-6, God Reveals Himself

And so God reveals Himself to those seeking Him. Exodus 3:1-6,

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

God first got the attention of Moses, using the miracle of the burning bush. To talk to us, our focus must be on God. He wants us to look toward Him. I think sometimes when we look at the troubles we have in the world, people put the blame on God, but it’s really us who should have had our attention on God all along. This problem began with Adam and Eve looking toward the serpent for advice and continues through this day. We want God to perform His miracles, but we won’t give Him 5 minutes a day to study His Word. And when we don’t know His Word, we don’t know what God’s purpose is. Everything appears as confusing as a burning bush to us.

God’s first step in taking compassionate action for us is to reveal Himself. He does this in so many ways; in Moses case, the burning bush. In my case just this week, He made himself known to me through this lesson. I know this doesn’t appear to be a lesson on marriage, but for me it is. God revealed to me that He is at work through bible study and through the words and actions of people close to me.

How does God reveal Himself to you?

What are we supposed to do when He does reveal Himself?

Today, God primarily reveals Himself through His word. I want to try an experiment. Left side of the class, turn to Exodus 34:6-7. Right side of the class, turn to Micah 7:18-20. While the whole bible reveals God’s character to use, these 4 verses, 2 in Exodus and 2 in Micah, are the Clift Notes shortcut to revealing God’s characters.

What characteristics of God are revealed to us?

Compassionate Merciful Loving Impartial
Patient Good Just Wise
Holy Perfect Faithful Sovereign
Glorious Jealous Immutable Truthful

God uses many ways to get our attention so that He may reveal Himself. Some of them are the very issues that we cry out that we do not see God’s hand at work. Our health, our jobs, wars and hunger and earthquakes and accidents. We end up with a host of questions about God that are not new but go all the way back to Job questioning God.

An atheist looks at these disasters and concludes life is random and meaningless, nature is just bad. Atheist Richard Dawkins says that “Human life is nothing more than a way for selfish genes to multiply and reproduce.”

A philosopher looks at calamity and concludes that if God must not be powerful enough to stop evil. In other words, God is not God. Or if God is all powerful, perhaps God isn’t good. The Swiss philosopher Armin Mohler said that “God can be good, or He can be powerful, but He cannot be both.”

Even Christianity struggles with how to explain disasters. The legalist says that all evil is a result of sin. Remember Pat Robertson saying that the people of Haiti deserved the earthquake because of their pact with the devil? And liberal Christians are all over the map, blaming God for evil, blaming other gods for evil, believing that God isn’t in control after all and really needs to come up with a plan B.

But true Christianity understands that God is full of mercy. True Christianity is trusting in the wisdom and sovereignty of God without making God the author of sin.

Psalm 66, selected verses (1, 5, 7, 10, 11, 12, 16, 19) –

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!

Come and see what God has done,
his awesome deeds for humankind!

He rules forever by his power,
his eyes watch the nations—
let not the rebellious rise up against him.

For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.

You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.

You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.

Come and hear, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.

but God has surely listened
and has heard my prayer.

God’s listening. God’s in control. And God has a purpose. But first you must recognize who God is and focus your attention on Him.

IV. Exodus 3:7-10, God Takes Action

Once God’s perfect timing is ready and our attention is focused on Him, then God takes action. I believe God works this way so that once we see His compassion and action, we give proper credit to Him. Exodus 3:7-10,

The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

I think it’s instructive to note that God’s plan is a complete plan. God says that He will rescue His people. And then what? Turn them loose in the desert? No, God’s plan is more than just ending evil. God plan is providing good. It’s reminiscent of His plan for our own salvation. When God calls us to repent, it doesn’t mean just to turn from evil. It means turn around and head toward God, to do good and to serve and to learn and be sanctified. When God reaches His hand to us and offers us salvation, He’s not just rescuing us from Hell and turning us loose. He’s taking us from Hell to Heaven, our land flowing with milk and honey.

When we are fulfilling His plan for us, when we become His hands and feet of compassion, it’s important to remember that our work for Him must be just as complete. We don’t condemn people, tell them to stop doing evil. We show them a better way, one of love and compassion and in the life of Jesus. Jesus is not just our rescuer. He’s also our deliverer.

God tells Moses, “So now, go.” Why did God wait so long to act?

I don’t think God was waiting. I think Moses and the Hebrews just didn’t notice God was in action the whole time. Moses was impetuous and prideful, and God had spent 40 years preparing Him for this. Moses knew the Hebrews, Moses knew the Egyptians, Moses received an education from Pharaoh’s royal court. Even Moses father-in-law was a priest of Midian, teaching Moses about God. And now Moses was fully prepared to be a servant of God, recognizing God when He calls, focusing on God’s plan, humble enough to be God’s servant in rescuing His people from slavery and delivering them to the promised land.

Moses wasn’t perfect by any stretch. It may have been 40 years, but Moses was still a stutterer and was once a murderer. But Moses was different now. Gone is the Moses that killed the Egyptian. In his place in the Moses of verse 11, “But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Who am I?

And that’s the right question to be humble before the Lord. Because it’s not about us. Who are we? We are creations, we are not the creator. God responds, “I am who I am. Tell them ‘I AM’ has sent you.”

What is God teaching us about serving Him? If we are inclined to serve at, say, Star of Hope or Angels of Light or the Church in the Park next month, that’s great service. But if we then puff up our chests with pride about what a good job we’ve done, we’ve missed the point. It’s not about us. It’s about the great ‘I AM.’

V. Exodus 3:19-20, God Works Wonders

It’s God at work in His creation; it’s not about His creation trying to steal the show. To God goes all the glory. And when His time is perfect and His plan is in place and our focus is on Him, God will fulfill His promises. Exodus 3:19-20 –

But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.

Moses was concerned that he wasn’t fit for this role because of his past and because of his handicap. Would the Israelites believe Moses? Would they trust Moses to lead them? Did Moses have the capability to persuade Pharaoh?

God reassures Moses at each step that God is exactly who He says He is. He is God. And God recognized that this is a difficult task, that a mighty hand will be necessary to free His people. But God has a mighty hand to do just that.

And when we have a task ahead of us that seems too great for us, then we are exactly where God wants us to be. He wants us to recognize that the task is too great for us, but not for Him. God still performs miracles today. He still rescues people from under the earthquake rubble, He still heals diseases, He still provides hope and peace. He doesn’t always perform the miracle we expect on our own timetable, but there is a promise He will keep because we have a covenant promise from Him. We have the promise of everlasting life with Him through His son, Jesus. And because we know God will fulfill that promise, even when we don’t see Him at work on our timetable, we can be sure He’s at work on His timetable. That will give us strength in our weakness, hope in our despair, and abundant life even in the valley of the shadow of death.

God is at work, though we may not see Him. He can use us with whatever flaws we have, because He has prepared us for this day. And he will use others to perform unexpected miracles in our life regardless of their flaws. He is the great ‘I AM.’ To God be the glory.