Who Is My Neighbor?

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
July 14, 2013, Pentecost VII

Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14, Luke 10:25-37

From the Old Testament:
Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians:
And so, from the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
A lawyer, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
[Jesus then told the story of the Good Samaritan, after which Jesus asked the question: Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?] He said, “The one who showed mercy on him. And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

I am sure that we are all familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan. We might not remember all the details, but we know it has to do with helping another human being when no one else would.

We have a group of Jewish men: rabbis, scribes, etc. sitting around possibly inside the temple, discussing theological matters. A lawyer or scribe stands up and tries to trap Jesus, by getting him to say something that would turn the people against him. He says to Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the Law?” The man answers, “You shall love 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.” Jesus answered him, “You have answered right; do this and you will live.”

Our Lord sent the man back to the Law, not because the Law saves us (Gal. 2:16, 21; 3:21), but because the Law shows us that we need to be saved. There can be no real conversion without conviction, and the Law is what God uses to convict sinners (Rom. 3:20).

The scribe gave the right answer, but he followed it up with another question: “Who is my neighbor?”

This can be a very hard question to answer. To what extent are we responsible for another human being? If someone is homeless, are we responsible for providing shelter? Suppose he chooses to live on the streets. If a person is hungry, are we responsible for feeding him every day. Are all the people who go to soup kitchens in need of a meal or are they going because it is free? If a man is an alcoholic, sitting on the sidewalk, begging for money; are we responsible for picking him up and getting him treatment, assuming he would go? How much would it cost us to help? Would we be putting ourselves in danger by helping?

To help us answer this question, Jesus told a story: “A man was going down to Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he gave the innkeeper two denarii to look after him, and told the innkeeper that he would be back in a few days and would reimburse him for any additional costs.

At the end of this story, Jesus asked the scribe, which of these three: the priest, the scribe or the Samaritan, do you think, proved neighbor to this man who fell among robbers? The scribe answered, “The one who showed mercy on him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Most of us can think of excuses for the priest and Levite as they ignored the victim. Perhaps the priest had been serving God at the temple all week and was anxious to get home. Perhaps the bandits were still lurking in the vicinity and using the victim as “bait.” Why take a chance? Certainly fear may have been a reason.

Anyway it wasn’t their fault that the man was attacked and left for dead. Besides, the road was busy, and eventually someone would come along and help the man. The priest left it to the Levite to help the man; the Levite left it to the Samaritan.

By using the Samaritan as the hero, Jesus disarmed the Jews, for the Jews and Samaritans were enemies (John 4:9; 8:48). It was not a Jew helping a Samaritan but a Samaritan helping a Jew who had been ignored by his fellow Jews! This Samaritan risked his own life, spent his own money, and did not expect anything in return.
What the Samaritan did helps us better understand what it means to “show mercy” (Luke 10:37), and it also illustrates the ministry of Jesus Christ. The Samaritan identified with the needs of the stranger and had compassion on him. There was no logical reason why he should rearrange his plans and spend his money just to help an “enemy” in need, but mercy does not need reasons. Being an expert in the Law, the scribe certainly knew that God required His people to show mercy, even to strangers and enemies (Ex. 23:4-5); Lev. 19:33-34; Micah 6:8).

See how wisely Jesus “turned the tables” on the scribe. Trying to evade responsibility, the man asked, “Who is my neighbor?” But Jesus asked, “Which of these three men was neighbor to the victim?” The big question is, “To whom can I be a neighbor?” and this has nothing to do with geography, citizenship, or race. Wherever people need us, there we can be neighbors and like Jesus Christ, show mercy.

How would we act if we came across a man on the side of the road who had been stripped, beaten, robbed and left for dead? In this day and age, it would be quite simple. We would just dial 911 on our cell phone and the police and ambulance would arrive and the man would be taken to the local hospital where his needs would be taken care of.

We may read this passage and think only of “the high cost of caring,” but it is far more costly not to care. The priest and the Levite lost far more by their neglect than the Samaritan did by his concern. They lost the opportunity to become better men and good stewards of what God had given them. They could have been a good example to the town. The Samaritan’s one deed of mercy has inspired sacrificial ministries all over the world. Never say that such ministry is wasted! God sees to it that no act of loving service in Christ’s name is ever lost.

Although we may not be confronted with a situation like the Good Samaritan, there are many instances when there is a need around the world and in our community that we could and do respond. We as a church give money, food and clothing to The Salvation Army here in Waltham. Last Thanksgiving we gave 50 turkeys to the Salvation Army to distribute to the needy. Recently, we raised money to send 3 or 4 children for a week at the Salvation Army’s summer camp. We support Samaritan’s Purse, the organization founded by Franklin Graham and which takes its name and mission from the Good Samaritan story.

Samaritan’s Purse sponsors Operation Christmas Child, where we fill shoeboxes with school supplies, toys, etc. and these boxes go around the world to needy children who receive not only our love, but the love of Jesus Christ. We are a small congregation, but when a need is brought to our attention, we respond!

When we think of being a Good Samaritan, we think of providing for the physical needs of the person: food, shelter and clothing. We should also be concerned with the spiritual needs as well. Do we ignore sharing our Christian faith with our neighbor or do we minister to him by sharing the love of Jesus Christ?
St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians dealt with the spiritual needs of the person. We need this letter today, just as they needed it back in 60 A.D. when Paul wrote it.

Colossae was located about 100 miles inland from Ephesus. This area was a meeting point of East and West because an important trade route passed through there. At one time, it was a growing and prosperous city, but gradually Colossae slipped into a second-rate position or small town. Yet the church there was important enough to merit the attention of the Apostle Paul.

All kinds of philosophies mingled in this cosmopolitan area, and numerous religious beliefs abounded. There was a large Jewish colony in Colossae, and there was also a constant influx of new ideas and doctrines from the East. It was fertile ground for religious speculations and heresies; A battleground for the Christian faith.

The Good News of the Gospel was not native to the city of Colossae. It had to be brought to them; and in their case, Epaphras was the messenger. He was himself a citizen of Colossae (Col. 4:12-13), but he had come in contact with Paul and had been converted to Jesus Christ.

Once Epaphras had been saved, he shared this thrilling news with his relatives and friends back home. That’s how he built up the church; that’s how we can build up this church by inviting our friends and family to attend worship. Are we not caring for our neighbors, at least spiritually, when we share our faith in Jesus Christ with them?

There is a good lesson for us here: God does not always need an apostle, or a “full-time Christian worker” to get a ministry established. Nor does He need elaborate buildings and extensive organizations. Here God used laymen to start ministries to reach out and share the Gospel.

Just like our Old Testament reading this morning about Amos. Amos was a herdsman and a cultivator of sycamore trees when the Lord called him to be a prophet. He lived in Tekoa, about eleven miles from Jerusalem, during the reigns of Uzziah in Judah (790-740 BC) and Jeroboam II in the Northern Kingdom of Israel (793-753 BC). Amos was a “layman,” a humble farmer and shepherd who was not an official member of the Jewish religious or political establishment. He was called to be a prophet and announce God’s judgment on the nations. Any one of us could be called by God for some reason; we need to be ready to answer the call: Yes God, send me!

It is important as Christians that we are strong in our faith, so that when we come in contact with other beliefs, we won’t be influenced by them.

Epaphras did not simply lead the Colossians to Christ and then abandon them. He taught them the Word and sought to establish their faith. These new believers were in danger of turning from the truth and following the false teachers. Paul reminded them that it was Epaphras who led them to Christ, discipled them, and taught them the Word.

We should never forget that we need to care for new Christians. Just as the newborn baby needs loving care and protection till he can care for himself, so the new Christian needs discipling. The Great Commission does not stop with the salvation of the lost, for in that commission Jesus commanded us to teach converts the Word as well (Matt. 28:19-20). That is what the fellowship of the local church is all about.

The Word of God is a seed (Luke 8:11). This means the Word has life in it (Heb. 4:12). When it is planted in the heart, it can produce fruit. “All over the world this Gospel is producing fruit and growing” (Col. 1:8). When God’s Word is planted and cultivated, it produces fruit. Faith, hope and love are among the first fruits in the spiritual harvest. Faith comes through the hearing of God’s Word (Rom. 10:17). Love is the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Hope is the assurance of eternal glory in heaven.

It is important to the help our neighbor and provide for his needs. Not just the physical needs of food, clothing and shelter, but also his spiritual needs by introducing him to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. But first, we need to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We need to be strong in our knowledge, understanding and faith in Jesus Christ, before we can be the “Good Samaritan” who ministers not only to the physical needs, but also the spiritual needs of our neighbor as well.

Let us pray:
O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.