Skip to content

Sermon: Like a Good Neighbor

November 21, 2011

Luke 10:25-37

What is a good neighbor and how do you become one?

It has been said that good fences make good neighbors.  There is actually some scientific evidence that indicates that good boundaries actually do make good neighbors—or at the very least, they reduce conflict.  Some people would tell you that a good neighbor minds his or her business, isn’t nosy, does not get involved.

What is a good neighbor?

It is an important question for people of faith.  Attentive students of scripture will note that our greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind.  And the second part of that can never be removed from the first: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  What is a good neighbor?

The gospel according to Luke tells a story of Jesus as he was preparing to go to Jerusalem—“preparing to go to Jerusalem” is code for “Jesus is going up to die.”  As his ministry came to a head, conflict between Jesus and the authorities was ratcheted up.  In this story, a lawyer, of all people, tested Jesus with the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus knew the answer.  The lawyer knew the answer.  Everybody standing around listening to the conversation knew the answer.  What is written in the law?  Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.  Simple.

The lawyer pushed Jesus a little further.  “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus might have given the lawyer a legal definition of the term “neighbor.”  Jesus might have delineated all the characteristics that make a person a true neighbor and described the things that disqualified one from neighborly status.  Instead, he told a story, a story that is one of our most well known stories in the New Testament.

There was a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho.  On the way, he was beaten senseless by robbers who took everything, including his clothes, and left him to die.  The first person who came along was the good pastor of the local United Methodist church.  He saw the beaten man, and might have called 911, but the battery on his cell phone was low, and he wanted to save the charge in case of emergency.  He passed by on the other side of the road.  The next person by was the lay leader of the church, and he quickly decided that discretion is the better part of valor, and so he passed by on the other side of the road.  Finally, along came a third man.  Jesus, a good Jew, said the man was a Samaritan.  If Jesus and his audience had been from San Pedro High School, he would have said the man was a Narbonne alum.  If Jesus had been a good Sunni Muslim, he would have said the man was Shi’a.  The point is that the man who came along next and the man who had been beaten and robbed, were enemies.  They were from two groups of people who did not like each other.  This man—Samaritan, Gaucho, Shi’a—stopped.  Tended to the wounded man, put him on the donkey and went down the road to the nearest inn.  Then, he handed over his credit card to the innkeeper and said, “Take care of this man.  Do whatever you need to do.  Put it all on my card.”

Which of these three—the good pastor, the fine lay leader or the Samaritan—proved to be a neighbor to the man who had been robbed, beaten and left for dead?

*     *     *     *     *

          A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.  Bible scholar Robert Capon (Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, 209ff.) says we should pay particular attention to “the physical remarkability” of this trip.  Jerusalem, capital city and home to the Temple, is about 2,500 feet above the Mediterranean, and Jericho is located all the way down 825 feet below the sea.  It is a steep descent.  In fact, such a journey straight down reminds Capon of another trip straight down, the journey Jesus took into the territory of death.

And so Capon concludes that the main thrust of the story is not about neighbors, but about the saving death of Jesus.  What happens is that the people who should get it, who should understand—the well educated pastor and the dedicated lay leader—don’t get it.  The Samaritan, the despised stranger, does get it.  He becomes a neighbor to Jesus, he participates in the death—and therefore resurrection—of Jesus by stopping his donkey, putting the wounded Christ-figure on the donkey, and spending whatever it takes for the man at the nearest inn.  That is the story Capon tells us, and it makes some sense, especially in the gospel according to Luke.

What is a good neighbor?

A good neighbor is one who ministers to Jesus as he lays bruised and battered and near death on the Jerusalem-to-Jericho road.  And guess what?  That nearly dead Jesus is sprawled out in a bloody heap all over this town.  The gospels remind us that when we love the least, the lost, lonely, the weakest among us, we are loving Jesus.

They are everywhere.  There is the elderly woman who lives three doors up the street and can barely take care of herself.  There are the children whose parents work two jobs, and so those kids have nothing to do but run around after school without anyone to guide them.  There are the chronically destitute who shuffle around town desperately searching for a moment of peace now and again.  There is the new mother across the street who brought home her first child a few weeks ago, but is now so depressed she doesn’t know what to do with herself or her baby.  Jesus is lying in a ditch all over town.

What is a good neighbor?  I don’t suppose Jesus would ever say that good fences make good neighbors.  I can’t imagine he would say that good neighbors mind their own business and keep to themselves.  I think Jesus did say, a good neighbor stops the car, gets out and tends to the wounds of Jesus, which means tending to the wounds of the lost, the least, the lonely and the hopeless.  They are the Christ figures to us as we journey from the heights of Jerusalem to the bottom of the road in Jericho.  A good neighbor pays attention, and a good neighbor acts.

“What is a good neighbor?” naturally leads to the question, “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus is my neighbor, who traveled the road from the heights to the depths for me, for you.  Jesus is my neighbor, who was battered and bruised and left to die by the side of that road.  Jesus is my neighbor, and I see him in the scarred and unwashed face of the woman sleeping at the bus stop.  I see him in the rude behaviors of the children who run the streets because they have no one to guide them.  I see him in the sad face of the old man who lives alone at the end of the block.  I see him in the careworn face of the man who has just brought his wife home from yet another radiation treatment.

Which of these was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?  The one who showed him mercy.

Go and do likewise.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 31, 2017 12:27 am

    Ƭhis paragraph is truly a good one it helps new net visitors, who
    are wishing in favor of blogging.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: