“And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29b)

The guy sleeps expecting a train

Scripture tells us the man asking Jesus this question was wanting to justify himself (v. 29a).

Most likely, he was looking for Jesus to give him an answer that had a limited category for “neighbors”–and hopefully in that category would be all the people the man was already treating well.

What I’m sure he didn’t expect was Jesus’ response with the parable of the good Samaritan.

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.’

“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.” (Luke 10:30-37, NIV)

In Jesus’ parable, the word “neighbor” exploded the limits society had put on it.  It came to mean anyone who needed help.  Anyone.

Last night, Ben and I were invited over to dear friends’ house.  I’ll call them Tom and Becky here to protect their privacy.  It was easy to see from where our GPS was taking us that they lived on the more dangerous side of town.  When we got to their house, what we learned from them blew us away.

Tom and Becky had moved to this very neighborhood for the purpose of sharing the Gospel of Christ with their neighbors.

I have never, ever thought of selecting a house for the purpose of reaching the neighbors.

Rather than stay inside with their doors locked, they sat out on the porch with us, waving at almost every car that passed by.

As cars passed by, Tom would immediately tell us in a voice full of love, “That’s ____, and he lives ______” followed by a story of how they had made contact with that person and what they were praying for him about.

Although they had stories of the drugs, alcoholism, tragedy, and violence of the neighborhood, they are adamantly unafraid.  They are on mission for God, and confident they are in the right place.

On Sundays, they host church in their home.  Tom is the pastor and Becky serves the afternoon meal.  They invite everyone from the neighborhood to come over and join them.  Many times, Tom has to ask them to leave at 10 p.m. so he can go to bed for work the next day!

When people come to their door asking for money,rather than keeping the shutters down and hiding as I would be tempted to do, Tom and Becky’s habit is to invite them in for dinner.

When new neighbors move in, Becky bakes goodies to welcome them in the neighborhood.  As we were there, Tom was telling us they’d just gotten a new neighbor in a house that had been empty for a long time.  Tom’s face is filled with eagerness as he talks about the new opportunity, as if he’s just found out a movie star is moving next door.

The way Tom and Becky treated their neighbors as they talked about them was so humbling.  Since they constantly see the struggles and addictions of their neighbors, Tom said, “I remind myself every morning, I’m no better than any of them . . . But for the grace of God, I would be that person.”  And they both mean it.  Their hearts are open wide to their neighbors, not closed tightly against those people.

They have a policy of always inviting their neighbors over for dinner before they invite them to church.  Tom and Becky want people to know that they care about who they are and where they are at more than they care about checking off a dutiful “I’ve-invited-you-to-church” box.

Tom said something like, “It’s easy to invite someone to church.  It’s harder to invite them to dinner.”

They are passionate about sharing Christ with their friends, even though it means taking the time to invest in their lives.

Over 2,000 years ago, a man wanting to justify himself asked Jesus,

“And who is my neighbor?” (v. 29b)

I need to ask myself that very question today, but with one important difference.  Rather than trying to justify myself as I ask, I need to be asking so that Christ can transform my hardhearted thinking and explode my view of who are my neighbors.

.               .               .               .               .               .               .               .

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

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37, NIV)

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Two days pay . . . and much more

I don’t think of what I get paid in days.  I don’t even think in weeks.  I think in months.  This is because I get paid in months.  And if I wanted to know how much I made in a week, or in a day, I would have to divide.  Not that I don’t know how to divide, but, really, who likes to divide when they don’t have to?

But I got to thinking about my salary in days because, as often as I’ve heard the story of the good Samaritan, and even since in the past few years I began reading my Bible . . . I always casually acknowledged the part about two days pay without even thinking about it.

“A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.

“By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.

“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.

The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” (Luke 10:30b-37, NLT)

Thinking about silver coins didn’t mean much to me, because I guess I was thinking more of “silver” coins today: nickels, dimes, quarters.  Sure, I knew the silver coins were worth more than a couple quarters, but it didn’t seem like much.

One denarius (plural denarii)

The actual currency was denarii.  Having nothing to equate denarii to, I guess I had in my mind something like ten dollar bills.  But I’m without excuse to think such a thing, because I had read, I don’t know how many times, in the footnotes of Bibles, that a denarii was worth about a day’s wage for a common worker.

I never stopped to think about how much a day’s wage actually is.  The Samaritan in Jesus’ parable spends two days salary on a total stranger.  That’s not spare change.  That was a commitment that would have thrown his entire monthly budget off.  Something–or maybe many somethings–would have to be given up to give this money for lodging and care to a total stranger.

And scarier still than losing two days pay, this Samaritan assigns himself the financial responsibility of covering the man’s needs, if they were beyond this.  That’s a frighteningly open arrangement.  He doesn’t say he’ll cover the bills if they are one denarius more or up to five denarii more–he simply promises to cover the expenses!

And that’s not all.  The Samaritan used his own olive oil and wine on the man.  It wasn’t as if he could go to Wal-Mart to buy more.  Pouring these ointments out on this total stranger, the Samaritan was denying them to himself and taking away from his family’s provisions.  He would either have to come up with money to purchase more wine and olive oil in the city–and that would have been even more difficult since he had just given two days pay away–or he would have to wait until harvest time, if he was a farmer.

As olive oil had to be pressed from olives, wine had to be pressed from grapes.  Olive oil and wine represented work–hard work–and this Samaritan gave them away to a total stranger.By reading the Bible (like 1 King 17:11-14) we learn that olive oil was necessary for bread, and bread was a meal staple.

But the Samaritan went beyond giving his money and personal provisions.  This man also gave his time.  Having no cell phone to call for an ambulance and no ambulance to come anyway, the Samaritan led a wounded man on a donkey while walking on foot was slow.  And this was the same dangerous place the wounded man had been robbed and beaten.  Walking on foot wasn’t just time-consuming: it was risky.  He had no donkey to flee away on if another band of robbers showed up.  The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was known to be dangerous[1], so this was no easy path.

So this Samaritan gave away his money, his provisions, his time, and he even risked being in the same predicament as the wounded man.

But now here is probably the most amazing part of all: the Samaritan helped a man who was most likely prejudiced against him.  The Jewish man most likely hated Samaritans and saw them as “half-breeds”, because that was the popular thinking of the day.  The Jewish people would often go out of their way to avoid routes that led by Samaritan villages.  So for this Samaritan man to help this Jewish man, he had to overcome his own feelings of injustice and rage.

Some people might have been proud of themselves just for not kicking this Jewish man while he was laying on the ground.  But the Samaritan not only doesn’t take an opportunity for revenge, his heart immediately drops any bitterness, any spite, and he begins to help this man out.  Whether or not he felt like helping the man, this Samaritan overruled all his negative emotions in favor of doing right.  He practices mercy, not because he has a special kind of ability others don’t have, but because he chooses to.

This Samaritan had no cell phone, no ambulance, and no insurance or Medicare to cover the wounded man’s medical bills.  And he had no reason to help a man whose people group hated his people group.  In fact, he had just about every excuse in the world not to help.

Yet he helped anyway.

Jesus taught that this man is the neighbor.

Not because he came over to borrow a cup of sugar, or because he waved at his neighbor every time he was at the mailbox, or because he participated in neighborhood watch, or because he bought the kid next door’s cub scout popcorn one year.  Jesus said this Samaritan man was the neighbor because he had the courage, the willingness, the generosity, the patience, the humility, and the mercy to help a total stranger.  In other words, this Samaritan man loved his neighbor.

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”

The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.

“By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.

“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.

The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” (Luke 10:25-37, NLT)

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[1] The pastor at my church gave a sermon on this once that encouraged me to deeply investigate this parable rather than just thinking I already “knew” it.  How gracious God is, and how patient!

Photograph of denarius by Daniel R. Blume, http://www.flickr.com/people/drb62/

Photograph of bread and olive oil by Charles Haynes, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/haynes/

Photograph of grapes by Or Hiltch, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/orcaman/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

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