Would You Be My Neighbor?

Pentecost 8, 2016, Bunker Hill, Luke 10:25-37

10:36-37 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

For years, Mr. Rogers, entered our living rooms via the TV set.  He put on a sweater and sang, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” He invited each child and parent to be his neighbor. “Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor? Won’t you please? Please won’t you be my neighbor?” Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood extended beyond all boundaries and barriers. The idea for Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, could have come from our gospel lesson.

A lawyer asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He should have asked, “How do I become an heir of eternal life?”  St. Paul writes to the Colossians, “Thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the saints.”

The Father made us fit inheritors when Jesus rescued us from the power of darkness and moved us into the neighborhood where He is our friend through the forgiveness of sin. What Jesus has done for us is similar to an athlete who has grown up in a dangerous, poverty-stricken neighborhood. When he signs a professional contract move his parents to a safe neighborhood. Jesus has transferred us to the neighborhood where grace and peace light our lives and we live in safety from the perils of God’s judgment upon our sin. Psalm 136 tells us,  “He remembered us when our fortunes were low- for his love endures forever.”

When Jesus asked the expert in the scriptures. “What is written in the Law? How do you recite it?” he was seeking to move the Lawyer to that new neighborhood. The scripture expert knew the catechism by heart, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He committed himself to total devotion to God, with every ounce of his being. He would love God with all his emotions. His every inner drive would be devoted to God. With his intelligence he would be thinking of nothing else than loving God. Then, having devoted himself to God completely and totally he would do the same concerning his neighbor. He would do nothing but good in God’s neighborhood.

However, he needs Jesus to clarify something. He asks, “Who is my neighbor?” It is hard to do good in God’s neighborhood; if you don’t know the extent of the neighborhood. Then of course, we may know our neighbors, all too well. As a limerick says, “to dwell there above with those we love, oh that will be a glory. To dwell here below with those, we know, well, that’s another story.”

Now Jesus blows our ideas of neighbor and neighborhood all to smithereens. He tells a story of a man who was traveling the notoriously dangerous 17 mile Jericho Road that descended from Jerusalem 2,300 feet above sea level to Jericho, 1,300 feet below sea-level. Along the way, some robbers attacked him, beat him, left him bruised and bloodied, stripped naked and stole all he had. They left him for dead.

After a time, he heard the crunch of sandals on gravel. Half opening one swollen eye he saw dimly a priest approaching. In his mind, if not with his voice he called out, “Help me. Would you be my neighbor? Won’t you be my neighbor?” However, the priest hardly gave the mess by the side of the road a glance, but went on his way without breaking stride. He didn’t want to risk defilement and mess of trying to get back to doing his priestly duties. The crunch of sandals on gravel receded in the distance.

After a time, the crunching of gravel told of the approach of another man. Once more through the slit of what remained of his vision the man saw, a Levite who assisted with all the holy matters happening at the temple and directed the choir and musicians. Through parched lips, the beaten man weakly called, “Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Please won’t you be my neighbor?” After stopping to look for a moment, the crunch of gravel receded in the distance.  He was just too busy.

In time, the sound of crunching gravel again caught the man‘s attention a third time. Through his increasingly swollen eye, he saw it was a hated, heretical Samaritan. For a Jew, the thought of being touched by a Samaritan was revolting. They were outside the neighborhood in which any God-fearing Jew would ever find himself. They would never live in God’s neighborhood. Still, the Samaritan stopped, came near, tore some of his own clothing into bandages, and poured on soothing oil and cleansing wine. He put him on his donkey. When they came to the inn, he did not just dump the man off and run. He stayed the night caring for him. The next day he paid the Innkeeper a full month’s rent promising that when he passed by again, if there was more expense, he would pay that too.

It’s a wonderful story, one of our favorite parables.  At the end of the story Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”  The problem is, we often don’t.  The lives of others are too messy! Our lives are too busy.  How can we trust those who ask for our help?  Who knows what’s behind their woeful stories?

St. Paul writes of us, “While we were still weak; while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. While we were enemies, God made us his friends through the death of Jesus.” And there was no guarantee that we wouldn’t use Jesus generosity to just go off and do whatsoever we pleased. He set no limits on his love.

Jesus, is the despised one who has come down the road and spotted us in the wounded nakedness of our need. He took on our wounds in the balm of his steadfast love he healed us.  He himself, received no mercy. He was left to die on the cross, naked, bruised and bloodied. “And those who passed by derided him.” Jesus’ crucifixion is in violation of both parts of the commandment. When Christ was hung on the cross we sinned both against God in our failure to love him with our heart, soul and mind, and against our neighbor, Jesus. Christ is the only one who was fully able to love God and neighbor as self. He fulfills the law on our behalf; on our own side we still fall short. In Christ we find God acting as the true neighbor. Through his love, which knew no bounds, He paid the whole cost of restoring us to life. Now there is nothing more for us pay save for giving thanks to the Lord, for his good and steadfast love that endures forever. There is no one to whom Jesus would not be neighbor. He doesn’t say, “Let’s see if you are the right kind of people.”  He says, “Come unto me all who are loaded down with cares and woes, and I will give you rest.”

But now, Jesus says to us, “Go and do likewise.”  We join in Christ’s mission, and serve in his name.  We serve in the messiness and busyness of life.  We serve because he first served. A man once observed Mother Teresa cleaning the wound of a leper.  He turned away in revulsion and said, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.”  Teresa looked at him and replied, “Neither would I.  But I would do it for Christ.”  Jesus says, “What you do to the least of my brethren you do it to me.” When we answer the call, “Please, won’t you be my neighbor?” Then indeed, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.”


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