I awoke that morning to my mother in hysterics running up and down the hallway. She in turn had just been woken up by my father’s death rattle; he’d had a massive heart attack and died beside her in the bed. It was an understatement to say it was a hard day, one of the worst in my life, but one where I felt what it was like to be loved by my neighbours.
Immediate neighbours…About mid-morning, our next door neighbours actually whipped over with their lawn mowers and mowed our lawn; my father had taken great pride in keeping the garden very neat and tidy. He was an ex air force officer, so it had to be military style short. They wanted to honour him by doing that.
And the kind of neighbours that Jesus talked of in the parable of the Good Samaritan… Not only was it the day my dad died but it was also the day I left my job at the BNZ Queen Street, so in the afternoon, feeling very fragile and sad, I went in to say farewell to everyone. I took my car, a beaten up old triumph 2000…and as I was heading home again…up the steep part of Wellesley Street back to the western motorway on ramp… The car decided it was going to break down…break down on that steep hill…break down in the outside lane… break down in rush hour traffic…
There were businessmen on their way home, they obviously knew what was going on in my life because as they passed they waved fists at me and tooted, maybe to tell me to stay strong. Many of them pointed towards heaven with one figure hopefully to encourage me to put my faith in God… I’m trying to be nice here. But none stopped to help.
I’d broken down right outside the old hotel that used to be on Wellesley Street, where that bungee swing is now… and a bus load of tourist stopped and got out and looked around. They had obviously not seen a car like mine before because they took photos, but no one came to help…
Then over the noise of traffic and those ever increasing encouraging toots, I heard the sound of rap music and a group of young pacific island guys dressed in their street gear came down with a ghetto blaster at full volume. People gave them the once over then that look of disapproval. But they saw me in the middle of the road. They strode out into the traffic and said… ‘do you need a hand bro”… they stopped the traffic and they pushed my car over to the side of the road. I thanked them and they said no problems and headed off.
A friend had to come all the way in from Titirangi to tow me, and when they arrived, wouldn’t you know it, my car simply bust into life again… it was a vapour lock or something in the fuel system…it really was one of those days… But I knew the love of neighbours. I knew the kindness that Jesus beautiful articulated in the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan.’
We are working our way through Luke’s account of Jesus journey to Jerusalem. In Luke 9 verse 51 it says that Jesus knew his time was coming and so he resolutely set out for Jerusalem. It just so happens that that journey makes up the central third of the gospel and focuses on Jesus teaching on what it means for us to follow him walking the cross road… the road of discipleship. Last week, when he sent out the seventy two, we saw it was a missional road of going and telling people of Jesus and his Kingdom. This week we see it is a compassionate route when Jesus tells us to go and do likewise, to go and love our neighbour in a lavish radical over the top way that reflects God’s love for us in Jesus own life death and resurrection.
Often when I’ve preached on this passage, I ask people to tell each other the parable of the Good Samaritan and then to listen to it being read. Then I ask them to talk to the person they had told the parable to and see what they got right and what they missed out. In all those times there are three things that always come up.
The first is that people miss the context. The parable is so powerful and memorable that they forget that it is told in response to some questions by an expert in the law. ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ It’s a good question it’s the salvation question… isn’t it. And Jesus asks the expert to tell him what the law says “how do you read It?” and the lawyer gives a great answer ‘to 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”. That first part is the core of what Jews call the ‘shema yisrael’ from Deuteronomy 4:6-8. It is the focal point of the law and covenant in the Old Testament: that the Lord our God is one and they should love the Lord their God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’. It was to be nailed to their door posts, in a mezuzah, so every time they came in and went out they were to remember it. “Love they neighbour’ from Leviticus also captured the essence of the law, how being a people in right relationship with God is to be lived out in how treat each other. First and foremost that relationship with God needs to be addressed for us to have eternal and full life. Of Course Jesus came and lived and died and rose again so that we might be put right with God and though that be reconciled with each other.
But the lawyer wants to definitely know ‘who is my neighbour?’ There is a sense here that likes all lawyers they want to dot the I’s and cross the t’s. Define neighbour Jesus? Was it just the physical neighbour that lived next door? Is it just the people like us, our friends or our family or people in the church…? and Jesus really challenges that by saying it is the person who we come across who is in need. He bangs it home for the lawyer by making the hero in the story a despised Samaritan, those people of mixed race that the Jews looked down their noses at. He is the one who shows love to his neighbour. The lawyer may have wanted to quantify it, box it up, and put a limited to whom he should love but Jesus blows that apart for him and for us…
The second thing that people say they didn’t remember is the extent to which the Samaritan goes in showing love for the man, beaten and robbed by the side of the road. He goes out of his busy way as a merchant to help him, he takes him to an inn and tends his wounds and feeds him and pays for him to stay till he can recover, and he offers the inn keeper to cover any debt the man might incur beyond what the Samaritan has paid him. I wonder if it like someone in today’s society paying the bill for a homeless family staying in a motel…and then giving them the deposit they need to get a flat and the furniture they need to live. To love with a Christ like love calls us to give and love sacrificially. Who knows where it will lead.
Granville sharp is an ancestor of mine on my Mother’s side. When we saw a photo of a plaque with his face on it we knew it was rue because of the sharp nose… and high cheek bones (I’m adopted so I don’t have the family nose). Granville is known as the father of the movement for the abolition of slavery in England. He was the son of a bishop in the Church of England, and was a shipping clerk, one day he went to visit his brother who was a doctor and on the way he found a salve Jonathan Strong, who had been beaten by his master and left for dead on the street. Granville and his brother tended his wounds, got him a place in a prestigious hospital, paid for his four month stay there, that gives you a sense of the injuries he had sustained, when he was better they found him a job. When his master came looking for him again Granville Sharp engaged a lawyer to fight his being sold and shipped off to the plantations in the Caribbean. Granville Sharp spent two years teaching himself the law so he could argue in court that it was illegal for one person in England to own another, that when a slave stepped foot in England they were free. The law lords at the time feared him because of the rightness of his cause. He published the first pamphlet against slavery. It wasn’t till a generation later, with new leaders like William Wilberforce, that the slave trade was stamped out. Random acts of kindness can lead to systemic changes and justice. It is the power of love for our neighbour, world changing.
The last thing that people forgot was the punch line… or application… ‘Go and do likewise’. Jesus asked the lawyer who was the man’s neighbour? and the lawyer rightly responds the one who helped him and Jesus says go and do likewise… Go and do likewise… It’s interesting but the two people you’d think would be the heroes in Jesus story, the Levite and the priest, were religious people, kept the letter of the law were doing good things in terms of religious observance. But it isn’t religiosity or ritual cleanliness, both important issues for the Jews that God was looking for it was love and mercy… It was kindness.
The passage calls us as followers of Jesus to go and do likewise, that our love for God is shown in our love for others, our reaction to the race and the mercy and the kindness of God is to show that to others around us.
I found myself looking for something fresh in this parable today, and the thing that struck me was the way that he love shown by the Samaritan mirrored Jesus own love for us. We know what love is because God first loved us. He found us in our brokenness,
robbed and beaten, as we red in the psalm we used as a call to worship ‘he healed up the broken-hearted and bound up our wounds’, he took us to a place where we could find wholeness and he paid the price for us to be made new again. And so Jesus calls us to go and do likewise. Be it simply acts of kindness and again in the parable of the sheep and the goats Jesus talks of simple acts of kindness like giving a glass of water, going and visiting the sick, the infirmed, the prisoner, clothing and housing those who are poor. Isn’t that a challenge that we find increasingly at our door. Juan Carols Ortiz a south American Pentecostal who lived in the kind of land of extreme wealth and poverty we sadly are finding ourselves in summed up love your neighbour as yourself as saying that if we have three meals a day and our neighbour has only one e should settle for two so they can have two, if we have two coats and they have nothing to keep the cold out we should give them one of ours.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the profound movie ‘Pay it forward’. It tells the story of a teacher who challenges his class of young people to come up with an idea that will change the world. One young boy comes up with the idea of doing three acts of kindness for people who have no way of doing something for themselves. He them says that instead of paying him back he was going to ask them to pay it forwards, by doing three acts of kindness for other people and only asking in return for them to pay it forwards, it had to be a costly act and one that the person couldn’t do for themselves. The boy is tragically killed in the movie and as his mother and teacher are comforting each other a great crowd of people gather, those who have been affected and shown kindness and love as part of this pay it forwards movement. Of course I’m sure as the parable of the Good Samaritan show us there is no limiting of showing the great love we have received in Christ. We have received great love in Jesus Christ, the restoration of our relationship with God, that we can know God as our heavenly Father; let us pass it forwards by loving our neighbour. Let’s open our eyes as we travel down the roads we live in and travel along and allow the spirit of God to show us where the robbed and beaten in our community and city are and allow the spirit to cause us to go and show love and kindness. The cross road following Jesus is the compassionate way that leads to eternal life.
So I’m going to finish today by refereeing back to our light bulbs and asking you to continue to be that light … and ask today that we commit ourselves to three simple acts of kindness this week. Ask God to lead you to three people that you can show God’s grace and love to. Maybe they are on the list of people you are praying for from last week maybe just totally out of the blue.
We pray you would fill us a fresh with your spirit
Help us to love our neighbour and our enemy
To show them the love we have received from you
Open our eyes to see them and their needs
Open our hearts with the compassion of Christ
Open our lives and our wallets to share what we have
Empower our words and our deeds to embody you in the world
May we love because you first loved us
May we show kindness because you have shown us your kindness
May we show grace and forgiveness because we are graciously forgiven
May we offer the wholeness and healing we know that you bring
May people know Christ because they see your great love in us.
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