Sunday, July 11, 2010

love thy neighbor

The other day the family and I were on the interstate and drove by a van with a shredded tire. The driver was on his phone and for a split second I looked at my husband and then we both dismissed it. I don't think I gave it another thought, until the sermon this morning.

The text for Pastor's sermon today came from Leviticus 19:18; Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

The whole idea of commanding love is a little hard to swallow. Pastor used the example of children arguing and the mother putting her hand on her hip and pointing her index finger and saying, "LOVE ONE ANOTHER". We cannot make another person have deep rooted feelings of love for another person. This is not the love that the Lord was commanding us to have for each other.

In Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the good Samaritan we learn of not one but two ministers who walk right past a man in need. Sound familiar? Were they in a hurry? Was it not convenient? Did they forget God's command?

What would happen if it was my family stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire? Would I want someone to help me?

But the Parable of the Good Samaritan says more than "It's good to help people in need." The parable is also about excuses. About self-justification. About letting oneself off the hook.

Are we like the lawyer who was listening to Jesus and who questioned, "who is our nieghbor?" How did Jesus answer him? 'What is written in the Law?' Jesus replies 'How do you read it?' " (Luke 10:26) In other words, you know the law, how do you explain it?

And the man answered...
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

The lawyer began by asking for a definition of "neighbor" in order to justify limiting his love to his fellow Jews only. Jesus doesn't define "neighbor" in so many words, but his story makes it clear that our neighbor is whoever has a need. It doesn't matter who they are. Jesus' command to love our neighbor as ourselves knows no self-satisfying limits.

"Jesus told him, 'Go and do likewise.' " (10:37b)
Jesus isn't content just to define what "neighbor" means. He commands us to do as the Samaritan does, to show mercy to our fellow man who is in need.

Are Christians to be "do-gooders"? Yes, I suppose. But our motivation for doing good must be love for others, an interest in meeting their basic needs, a heart of mercy that is moved by compassion.

What are we -- as disciples of Jesus -- supposed to learn from this story? For me the answer is to examine my own heart. What motivates me? How much have selfishness and a dogged adherence to my own agenda leached away the mercy that Jesus holds dear and wants to flourish in my heart through his Holy Spirit? I may be efficient, but am I merciful. When "push comes to shove" do I put myself first, or do I put the needs of others first?

For me, Jesus' command, "Go and do likewise," means that I must value acts of mercy over personal productivity. What does it mean for you?


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