Sermon: Am I A Good Neighbor?

July 14, 2019
Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Colossians 1:13-20; Luke 10:25-37
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

“Am I A Good Neighbor?”

Love and Transformation
Have you ever noticed how often we say and hear, “I love…”; “I love movies; I love my little kitty or doggy; I love sunset over the lake; I love the smell of the brewed coffee in the morning, or I love that dress on you.” We have all kinds of things we love in our everyday life. But can the smell of coffee or the color of a dress we love change our life?

We often use the word “love” in our relationship with others that give us pleasure, but true love has a price. It demands our hearts, tears, hands, and even our properties. I believe that because of its great price, love can change or transform our lives. 

What made us become Christians? Is it our belief in Christian doctrines? We have doctrines of Trinity, Incarnation, Resurrection, Creation, atonement, eternal life, etc. You can say “I love the doctrine of Trinity,” but I don’t believe that doctrine transformed you to be a Christian. “God loves me so much” is the reason why I became God’s child. For his love, Jesus the Son of God paid a great price; he died on the cross to forgive our sins and bring us to God’s salvation. In his abundant love, we have been transformed to be God’s beloved children.  

The Good Samaritan’s Way of Love
The story in the Gospel lesson points this out to us – “true love has a price.” The narrative begins with a lawyer testing Jesus about what doctrines we should keep to inherit eternal life. Jesus turned the question back on him, and he correctly articulated the two great commands of the Law: love of God and love of neighbors as one’s self (v. 27) How do we inherit eternal life? Not by doctrines but by love!  

The lawyer then had a follow-up question, “Who is my neighbor?” (v. 29) It’s such a simple question. Don’t you know who your neighbor is? They can be all kinds of people (black, white, Asian, tall, short, righteous, wicked, rich, poor, etc.). But you may not know who is your neighbor if you never knock on the door of your neighbor’s house. Perhaps there are some people you don’t want to consider your neighbor although they live on your street. 

“Who is my neighbor?” It was a hard question to answer back in those days because it’s not clearly defined in the Jewish Law. According to the Law, there are some groups of people they can get along but there are some other groups they must condemn, drive out, and/or stay away from. With this controversial question, the lawyer tried to test Jesus, assuming he couldn’t answer the question. But Jesus responded again as a gentle teacher and led the lawyer to discover that the question he should raise is not “Who is my neighbor” but “Am I a good neighbor to others?”

Jesus replied to the lawyer’s question with a parable known as “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.” In this drama (vv. 30-35), we can identify four kinds of neighbors: 

  1. The robbers – those who harm others – murders, terrorists, warmongers, people who exploit the weak, domestic abusers, etc.  
  2. The victim – the homeless, the hungry children, people with addictions, people living under oppressive governments, etc. 
  3. The Priest and the Levite – the so-called “good” people- pious, religious, educated, legal
  4. The Samaritan – the outsider, the foreigner, the ordinary

How did the Priest and the Levite react when they saw a man lying bleeding by the roadside. They are so-called the good, pious, holy people according to the Law. But they just passed the victim by on the other side of the road. They didn’t even bother to find out whether the victim was dead or alive. Why? According to their Law, the victim was unclean because he was bleeding. Touching the dead body or the bloody body is against the Law. Or perhaps they were too busy to stop because they were on the way to the Temple to keep their holy service. Whatever reason, the victim was not on the list of their neighbors according to the Law.

“Who is my neighbor?” When the lawyer asked this question, he wanted to define what his boundaries are according to the Law. In his fences, he might include only his family, his relatives, and his countrymen–namely the Jews. Once the fences were set, they didn’t worry about going beyond their boundaries. The outsiders were not their concern. If they were in trouble, it wasn’t their business.  

It was a Samaritan who showed mercy on the victim (v. 33). He didn’t pass by when he saw the victim on the road; “He [got off his donkey,] 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” (v. 34). Back in those days, Samaritans were always despised by the Jews. They were sinners and pagans, unclean by the Law. Certainly, Samaritans were not on the list of Jewish neighbors. The irony of the story is that this sinner, not included in the Jewish definition of neighbor, is the one who showed himself a good neighbor to the unfortunate Jew. 

After telling the parable, Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” (v. 36) The lawyer reluctantly admitted, “The one who showed him mercy” (v. 37). Thus, Jesus changed the lawyer’s focus from “Who is my neighbor?” to “Am I a good neighbor [toward the one who needs mercy]?” 

This episode teaches us that I am “a good neighbor” when I show mercy to anyone in need as the Good Samaritan did to the victim. The root of the Law—“love of God and love of neighbor”—goes beyond the boundaries of the law or doctrines. God’s law will be fulfilled when we show “mercy” (v. 37).

 The Blood of Jesus Christ
 In Colossians, the disciple Paul claims that “[Jesus Christ] is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. (vv. 17-18). In other words, he is special who has almighty power upon all creation. Yes, Jesus Christ is originally God himself. 

Do we honor and worship Jesus Christ because he is far greater than anything else in the world? Paul also says about this almighty Savior, “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son” (v. 13). In terms of the parable in Luke’s Gospel, he didn’t pass by when we were in trouble or when we were sinners. How did he rescue us? It is not by his holy identity, but by “his own blood, shed on the cross” to forgive our sins (vv. 20).

The blood is a sign of his sacrificial love. Thus, Paul is trying to say that we are forgiven and transformed as God’s beloved children, not because of his authority or holiness but because of his sacrificial love. 

 Go and Do Likewise
 Love isn’t just an inner emotion; it is something concrete-touching, doing, and sacrificing. As I said in the beginning, true love has a price. It demands our hearts, tears, hands, and even our properties. Because love demands our sacrifice, we are careful to give love only to those who deserve it. So just like the lawyer in this parable, do we also want to ask “who is my neighbor?” or “who deserves my love?” Just like him, do we also need to set boundaries between people and say who is right and wrong? And Just like the Priest and the Levite, do we want to pass by when we encounter those in need because they are not our “neighbors?” 

However, throughout the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus questions the lawyer and us, “Who is the good neighbor?” The lawyer grudgingly replies, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus directs him and us to “Go and do likewise” (v. 37). In other words, “Get off your donkey and serve your neighbor.” Amen.