By Pastor David Holland
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of 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 to 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, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins 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 10:25-37
How can we know we are truly a Christian? Are you going to heaven? You cannot “be a good person” and earn your way into heaven. Nor is church membership enough. Jesus shows us a better way.
A young religious lawyer approaches Jesus, asking, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Great question.
Jesus asks the lawyer about what he believes, and the man shares remarkable insight as he says, “Love God” and “Love others.” These two great commandments are not only a summary of the entire Old Testament, but are the guiding principles of successful living. Great answer.
The lawyer, seeking to justify himself, questions Jesus further. “Who is my neighbor?” The translation here sounds like his motive is to prove himself good enough. I submit he is actually seeking assurance, as if he were saying, “How do I know the kind of love and faith God requires?” Christ answers with a story aimed at challenging the man while assuring him of salvation.
The parable begins with a man robbed, beaten, and left for dead. The priest walking by is unwilling to defile himself with this messy situation, so he avoids the man in need.
Touching a bleeding person would have disqualified the priest from serving in the Temple. Ironically, he was en route to the Temple to serve people in need while a man lies suffering right in front of him. A Levite also passes by, but in a hurry to fulfill his religious duties, he leaves the poor man by the side of the road.
But along comes a despised, irreligious Samaritan who has compassion for the man and generously attends to his needs. Christ concludes the parable with a question for the lawyer: “So, who was the good neighbor?”
The lawyer answers, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Christ’s conclusion and message to us, “Go and do likewise.”
It is easy to love God and love others in theory. The difficulty comes in actually doing it in ways that matter. The Lord shows us how. Through the priest, Christ shows you can find needy people in non-religious settings.
The Levite reveals hurting people sometimes surface at the most inconvenient times. It is in the random and unpredictable places that people and circumstances challenge us to show mercy.
Who is our neighbor? It is the needy person set in our path or the difficult situation that people lay on our doorstep. Often, our neighbor is a stranger.
We could shirk responsibility and ask ourselves, “Why is this person my problem?” We can go down the guilt path and assign blame. “What did they do to get themselves into this situation?” Or we can take the mercy road and help the hurting person.
When I was 17 and a new Christian, my mother went out drinking. Late that night, she came home with a male friend who had drunk way too much. Because I had two twin beds in my room, the stranger slept in the empty bed. I remember his smell to this day. Internally, I fumed with anger. But I also sensed that this man needed to know Christ as his savior.
I explained the good news of Jesus Christ to this inebriated person, and he prayed the prayer of faith. I went to sleep, doubtful he would remember anything. In the morning, I drove him home, and as I was dropping him off, he paused and said, “I remember what we did last night. I’m a Christian now.” Despite my lack of compassion, God’s grace powerfully affected this new brother.
I know simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ saves us from sin. But I also know we need to act on that faith by loving our neighbors. Walking down the road of life, you will encounter struggling, hurting people. In my experience, these tests occur in the most inconvenient times and are costly in time and money. Are you ready to meet your neighbor and pass the mercy test?
Dave Holland pastored churches for 38 years before retiring in Destin. He recently released his new devotional/Bible study based on the Gospel of Luke titled “Extraordinary Jesus: Ignite Your Season of Miracles.” You can get a copy of this book from his website, DaveHolland.org, or at Amazon.com. Pastor Dave is available to preach and teach in churches and conferences. Contact him at DavidvHolland54@gmail.com.