“Be Neighborly--Be Christlike”

22 May 2005

Text: Luke 10: 17-37


            What is God saying here?  We have appropriately come to this moment expectantly for when we “hear” Scripture read, we are hearing behind and through the words the authoritative voice of God.  But it is not entirely evident, perhaps, at first hand, what He is wanting to communicate.  Chronologically, we have the setting of the passage--the first ears to hear are those ears.  But the Lord is simultaneously speaking to us today, to our circumstances.  We need to attend to the text in order to ferret out which is which.  So, pause with me for a moment here.  Let us observe what is in front of us: a passage which incorporates both narrative and parable.  They do not have the same purpose.  The narrative portion leads us to the parable, therefore the parable does not exist, as it were, in a vacuum.  I’ll explain further.  We are told this parable in response to a “test” (v.25).  The man stood up.  Now that’s very interesting.  It projects for us a scene: an assembly setting perhaps, or a seminar in the round with a mixed crowd.  Jesus is talking to some who are with Him (His disciples), some who are against Him (those testing Him) and some, if we are honest, who have no idea whether they are with Him, or against Him--at least not yet.  This latter category, if I might say so, includes the greater part of those with whom we daily associate at work and in the everyday world.  This parable is about sorting us out--it is about identifying where we stand with regard to Jesus Christ--although it is veiled in the question, “Who is my neighbor?”.  Heb 4:12  For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.


            The hour of Luke 10:21, the hour of the return of the seventy, (v.17) is remarkable in that it is one of great personal, but public rejoicing.  In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit.  What a delectable window this is into the humanity of our Lord.  The seventy have returned, Jesus rejoices in the Spirit (yes, in the Spirit, it says) and He celebrates with passion and immediacy.  You see here a certain spontaneity that we shouldn’t neglect.  We have a tendency, I fear, of transforming Jesus into a stained glass window, or a work of religious art--putting in halos, clouds and ministering angels--even where they are most inapt.  This tendency trips us up badly because it destroys the humanity of Jesus just where we need to know it most.  Without that humanity, the Lord becomes inaccessible again--a kind of God in the clouds.  I sense that the gospels in general, and Luke’s gospel in particular are against these religious impulses.  Thank goodness.  Do you see the point?  Jesus is, right at a moment of great triumph immediately attacked by the Adversary.


            Now, whatever does “in the Spirit”( pneuma,  from G4154; wind, spirit:-- breath(3), Spirit(239), spirit(103), spirits(32), spiritual (m)(1), wind(1), winds(1).) mean?  Now some texts include the word “holy”--which the KJV does not--and this addition causes some confusion.  It is probably a gloss put in by those who want to either make the verse Trinitarian, or want to avoid the implications of the simpler version--which I prefer.  Probably that is too complex matter to be answered in a few words--but I want to caution us all against assuming that the mere occurrence of the word “Spirit” always means something Trinitarian.  I believe in the Trinity, and so should you--it’s what the bible teaches--despite the difficulties that doctrine poses for the unredeemed mind!  What the word Spirit here means is more celebration bordering on ecstasy.  It is more closely related, I think to the language found in 2 Sam 6:14  And David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, and David was wearing a linen ephod. 2 Sam 6:15  So David and all the house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouting and the sound of the trumpet. 2 Sam 6:16  Then it happened as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.   King David, full of joy, in the spirit of joyful abandon, dances before the Lord at the return of the ark to Jerusalem.  The bible, being of one piece, invites such connectedness.  And I must point out that just as here in Luke 10, there in 2 Samuel 6--such joy has its detractors.  It quickens contempt in some and gladness in others.  How proper her concern appears: 2 Sam 6:20  But when David returned to bless his household, Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, "How the king of Israel distinguished himself today! He uncovered himself today in the eyes of his servants' maids as one of the foolish ones shamelessly uncovers himself!" but it entirely misses the point. 


            Now that is similar to what is going on in this episode of Luke’s gospel.  The seventy return, Jesus rejoices in the spirit and the scribe, filled with contempt, like Michal, stands up to “rebuke” Him by way of a test.  As if to say, “Well, that’s all very nice I’m sure.  But we have some really important religious questions to discuss.”  David’s retort to Micah is telling; 2 Sam 6:21  So David said to Michal, "It was before the LORD, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel; therefore I will celebrate before the LORD. 2 Sam 6:22  "And I will be more lightly esteemed than this and will be humble in my own eyes, but with the maids of whom you have spoken, with them I will be distinguished."  Again, I do not summon up this parallel lightly, that is, without purpose.  For we note that there is a sting in David’s retort--and a consequence, too.  We read that Michal remained barren all the days of her life because she held her husband in such wretched, open contempt.  The parable of the Good Samaritan has similar salt to it, and it stings when applied.  That is the purpose of a parable.  It goes along purporting to be about one thing and suddenly it turns out to be about something entirely other--something deeper, more vital, more significant.  We must look at that, but here let us simply pass on with remark that the smugness of the scribe appears to be in the sights--it is his proud self-justification.  That is the target that Jesus aims at in the scribe and, of course, in each of us.  If we don’t get that, if we don’t experience the sting, we have missed something.


            Another point.  The parable of the Good Samaritan is so familiar to us that we run the risk of over-looking some crucial aspects.  I have just indicated that Jesus’ parable takes aim at the scribe’s self-justification.  The purpose of that aim is to render the scribe more vulnerable, to pierce his pride, his hardened heart.  You see, the scribe is self-assured, probably just as prim and proper as Michal--certainly just as spiritually barren.  And this truth is one that goes to the parable’s method: searching the very heart of identity.  Who did Michal think that she was to criticize and rebuke her husband for his celebration?  Who does this scribe think that he is to shun celebration and to change the topic, so to speak? Who do we think that we are?  How are we positioning ourselves in the story? Are we the victim, a priest, a Levite, or the Samaritan?  Or are we outside the story looking in as a disciple, or one of the opposition. This is a vital matter for the hearers as the parable draws us in.


            And who is this unnamed man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves?  Who is this person who suffers such a rude occurrence and is left hurt, naked and near death?  Is it not someone who has been afflicted in life’s circumstances?  Someone who has been rendered desperate and helpless all of a sudden?  In an instant, but an awful turn of events, lives are totally altered.  Such persons are vulnerable and alone--and such a person is representative of all lost sinners.  It is a pitiful picture of a neighbor who needs a neighbor.  And it is, at the very same instant, the picture of our merciful Father in heaven who-- working in the most unlikely of characters, a Samaritan, in the most surprising of ways comes to our aid.  So He comes to us, to those who are sick, weary, wounded--at the very point of death even--and rather than fearing defilement, stoops to dress our wounds, soothe our pain and puts us on his horse so that we may be rescued from danger, so that we might be taken to a place of care, healing and hospitality.  The glorious gospel of our Savior is incarnated in this parable.  It walks in and directs the steps of the Samaritan.


            The question of who the neighbor is must be answered in various ways--or we miss the Master’s meanings entirely.  The neighbor is certainly the person in need.  That is why we review and study and embrace the search and rescue mission of the church!  Every Sunday, we refresh our sense of mission.  We remind ourselves that it is not about us, it is about Him.  It is all about Him.  The neighbor is also the Samaritan.  We cannot and do not know whether Jesus was alluding to some current event--an item in the daily news--when He chose this setting for the parable.  The occurrence was common enough.  Even now, people are robbed every day.  You may have been robbed, too.  Or perhaps, you have been in an accident and left bleeding in the road.  You are a neighbor needing a neighbor.  On the other hand you may have stopped to help, to lend a hand, or to pray at the scene of an accident.  Perhaps you felt led to stand by, out of the way, and do what you could and ought--and perhaps you got more actively involved.  Praise God, for He leads us differently at different times and all to His glory.


            But we do not do justice to the parable if we fail to note who was not a neighbor.  Two obvious candidates come to mind: the priest and the Levite.  The less obvious candidate is the scribe.  These figures are religious types.  They are, sad to relate, church people.  They are religious, they are dutiful.  But they miss out because their priorities are different from the priorities of the Kingdom of God.  Their priorities are more in line with the world.  We might recognize their descendents as “worldly Christians” if only that term were not such a misnomer.  The difficult truth is that carnal Christians are not actually Christians at all.  The parable is not vague.  It simply is not okay to walk by on the other side--no, not if you have business elsewhere, a building committee meeting, a church council meeting- a political rally to save the unborn, or to oppose sexual confusion and permissiveness in our society.  There’s a time and a place for all such things that renders them right, godly and appropriate.  But even the scribe knows who the “neighbor” is.  Do we?  What a shame it would be if we made it to worship and left Jesus kneeling in the street beside the neighbor we failed to love!  How shall we answer Him then?  But, Lord, we sang Your praises?  We preached Your word.  And Jesus, holding that broken, bloody person in His arms-- cradling the lost, the wretched and dirty sinner with mercy--simply let’s His eyes meet ours. 


            I can speak for only myself when I say, I could not meet that gaze and not be broken all over again.  Oh, Jesus, hear our prayer, that you have mercy on us yet again.  How could we have forgotten?!  Once You  thus carried us, You once dressed our wounds and put us in Your care--mindless of cost to You.  Put it to my account, You said, I’ll be back,  And so have we ever been in Your care.


            Master, put more love in my heart today and stitch wings to my every prayer.  And, Lord, in Your kindness, hand that man, that woman, that child to me.  Regardless of color, or condition, friend, enemy, or stranger--what matters not to You must not matter at all to me.  Because of Your great mercy to me, I beg You to make me a messenger of Your mercy to others, Lord, for Your mercy’s sake. And to Your glory.