************ Sermon on Luke 10:37b ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 27, 2002
"Being a Neighbor to the Needy"
Hunger. Listen to a young girl in Bengal, Africa as she speaks about hunger:
No matter how hard we worked, we never had enough money. We started selling things--our wooden bed, our cattle, our plow, and finally the land. Now we all work--at finding food. Sometimes we eat grass, although it always results in cramps and vomiting.
Hunger is a curious thing. At first it is with you walking and sleeping, and in your dreams. Your belly cries out strongly all the time. There is a gnawing and a pain as if your insides are being devoured.
Then the pain is dull, this too is with you always, so that you think of food many times a day. Each time a terrible sickness attacks you.
Then that too is gone: all pain, all desire, only a great emptiness is left, like the sky, like a well in drought. It is now that strength drains from your limbs. You try to rise and find that you cannot.
There is hunger in America too. Listen to a homeless person in one of our big cities:
My days are very simple. My home is the street.
Today I moved to a patch of bushes, well hidden in the park. The Police don't bother me--they can't find me. If they did, they would throw away all my life's possessions.
Family--well, they are around somewhere. But they won't have anything to do with me. They are too busy with themselves and their families. They don't have time for me. My family is others who are on the street.
I usually can wash up once or twice a month. Fleas and lice are a part of life. So is being cold and damp. So is hunger. Some days I eat good. You would be surprised how much food the lunch crowd from the business district throws in the trash cans in the park. It's not everything I need, but it is food. I can make one meal a day. Some days other street people beat me to the best trash cans and if I'm lucky I can still find a few scraps. Most weekends, though, I don't eat.
I manage. Most of my time is spent foraging: for materials for my shelter, and for food. When I am hungry--I hurt. Sometimes I really hurt.
What's the difference between us and the young girl in Bengal, Africa? What's the difference between us and the homeless here in America? What's the difference between us and the 8.7 million people who die every year from hunger? What's the difference between us and the 800 million people who are hungry? For reasons known only to Himself, God has chosen to bless us with jobs, money, and the wherewithal to provide for ourselves. In other words, but for the grace of God there go you and I.
Jesus tells us today that because you and I are rich, blessed by the Lord, we are to be a neighbor to the needy wherever they may be.
I Question: Who is My Neighbor?
A "Love your neighbor as yourself," said Jesus (vs 27b). "And who is my neighbor?" asked a lawyer who was testing Jesus (vs 28).
The Pharisees and Scribes had an answer to this question. "Who is my neighbor?" My neighbor is a fellow member of the covenant. My neighbor is a fellow Israelite or Jew. My neighbor is a convert to Judaism. My neighbor is even a foreigner who has lived for 12 or more months in Palestine. But a Gentile is not my neighbor. A foreigner passing through the land is not my neighbor.
B Do you know what this means? This means that good Jews didn't have to show love to everyone. They only had to show love to neighbors, to fellow Jews. And those who weren't Jews, who weren't neighbors, they could be safely ignored and neglected, even when they needed help. The Rabbis went so far as to say that if a Gentile was drowning in the sea a Jew was not duty-bound to help him out. The law of love was valid only between those who were neighbors. It was not valid between Jews and Gentiles. The second table of the Law was the standard of conduct only between Jew and Jew.
C When the lawyer asked the question, "And who is my neighbor?" he expected a discussion with Jesus on what categories of people were or were not to be treated as a neighbor. But notice what Jesus does – He deals with the question, "Am I a neighbor?" "Are you a neighbor?"
This change in question makes a great change in emphasis. The spotlight is not focused on the one needing help but on the one giving help. Jesus switches attention away from the neighbor to being a neighbor.
On this World Hunger Sunday we too should not concentrate on who is the neighbor; rather, we should focus on being a neighbor.
II Not Acting as a Neighbor
A To get His point across Jesus tells us a parable, the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
There was a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. The distance is only 17 miles but it wasn't an easy road to travel. In the course of those 17 miles the road drops about 3000 feet through rather wild and desolate country known as a haven for thieves and robbers.
The story doesn't tell us anything about the man traveling this road. Yet, a Jewish audience would naturally assume the traveler to be a Jew.
This traveler fell into the hands of robbers. He was robbed, beaten, stripped, and left "half dead." In Jewish thought, to be "half dead" means to be "next to death."
Back then there were two ways to identify if a traveler was a stranger or a neighbor. The first way is by their speech: their language, dialect, and accent indicated whether or not they were a Jew. The second way is by their clothing. In the first century Greek and Jew each had their own distinctive style of clothing.
This means there was no way for any Jew to identify the man beside the road as being either a stranger or a neighbor. Don't forget, he was "half dead." This means he couldn't talk. And, he was stripped. This means he was not wearing his clothes.
B We are told that a priest happened to come down the road. A priest was among the upper class of Jewish society. This means he was wealthy and most certainly riding either a horse or a donkey. He, if anyone, was able to help the traveler laying along the side of the road. He had the financial resources to afford medical care. He had a means of transportation available to bring the wounded traveler to safety. Furthermore, as a priest of God he should have had the desire to help and love the robbed and beaten man.
But you know what he does: he passes by on the other side of the road and leaves as quickly as possible.
Why does the priest act in this fashion? A knowledge of Jewish Law and custom tells us that the priest thought he was being obedient to the Law. The Jewish Law specifies that a priest – to be fit for worship – is to keep away from any source of contamination or defilement such as contact with a corpse or with a Gentile. By trying to help the traveler the priest would risk both kinds of defilement and would render himself unfit to do his religious duties. The Jewish Law even stated he had to stay 6½ feet away to avoid contamination.
So the priest was trying to be a good Jew. He wanted to avoid contamination. He tried to be obedient to the Law. That's why he didn't act like a neighbor.
I ask you, though, was he being obedient to the Law? In their interpretation of the Law the Rabbis and Pharisees forgot the most important point – the demand of love! The priest failed to show love. He failed to be a neighbor. If only he had examined the traveler: he would have discovered he was still alive; he would have realized he was a Jew. Yet, when we think about it, the priest didn't have to know the man's name, nationality, or religion in order to help. Love, you see, the love that fulfills the Law, knows no boundaries or limits.
C What happens with the priest is repeated with a Levite. In social standing a Levite was just a little below a priest, so he too was part of a privileged group in Jewish society. This means that the Levite too was more than able to help the injured man. And, as a man of God, he too should have had the desire to help. The Scriptures indicate to us that the Levite went right up to the injured man. He had a close look. And, he also went on his way without showing love or offering help. The Levite too did not act like a neighbor.
III Acting as a Neighbor
A The crowd listening to Jesus would now expect a Jewish layman to appear on the scene and offer help to the injured traveler. They had heard about Jesus' conflict with the religious leaders so they expected the parable to teach that an ordinary Jew does a better job of being a neighbor and keeping the Law than does Israel's clergy.
B Much to the amazement and shock of the audience the third man to travel the road is one of the hated Samaritans. At the time of Jesus the bitterness and hatred between Jew and Samaritan was intensified. It seems that one night the Samaritans had crept into the Temple and defiled it by scattering human bones around. The Jewish response was to publicly curse the Samaritans in worship, and to offer daily prayers to God asking that all Samaritans be excluded from eternal life.
C What does the Samaritan do? When he saw the wounded traveler he "took pity on him." He used wine to clean the wounds. He poured on olive oil to lessen the pain. He applied bandages. And then he put him on his donkey and brought him to an inn. He gave the inn-keeper sufficient funds to look after the wounded traveler.
The Samaritan, do you know what he was doing? He was showing love. He was acting as a neighbor.
D The Samaritan showed loved and acted as a neighbor at considerable risk and expense to himself. Consider the following:
-by stopping along side the road he too could have been attacked by the robbers
-according to his religion, by touching a corpse or helping a Jew he too would be contaminating himself and making himself unfit for worship
-because of defilement no Jew was permitted to receive help from a non-Jew so there is the possibility the Samaritan would have trouble from both the injured man and the Jews of Jericho
-finally, the Samaritan was very, very generous; he gave the inn-keeper two denarii – which at that time was enough money to provide for 24 days' food and lodging at an inn; at today's prices this would come to well over $5000.00; and, he promised the inn-keeper even more money if this amount proved insufficient
E "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" asked Jesus. The lawyer replied, "The one who had mercy of him." This lawyer was no dummy. He caught on to the meaning of Jesus' parable: a hated heretic, a Samaritan, shows love while the ministers of God do not; a Samaritan is a neighbor while a priest and a Levite are not. Another way of putting this: a Samaritan is obedient to the Law of love whereas a priest and a Levite are not.
F Now comes the point or purpose of the parable: "Go and do likewise." "Be a neighbor," says Jesus. "Be a neighbor to all those in need – even those who are your enemies." The Parable of the Good Samaritan taught the lawyer to be a neighbor to anyone who has a need regardless of race, religion, or social status.
IV We Are to be Neighbors
A What Jesus says to the lawyer He also says to us: "Go and do likewise." "Go," He says to us, "and be a neighbor to anyone in need." "Go," He says to us on this World Hunger Sunday, "and be a neighbor to the hungry girl in Bengal, Africa. Go and be a neighbor to the homeless here in America. Go and be a neighbor to the poor and hungry in Haiti. Go and be a neighbor to the poor and hungry in Visalia." And, in the light of the parable, we know there can be no limits on or to our love. We are to love indiscriminately. We are to be a neighbor to all those in need.
What does it mean to be a neighbor? I think we all realize it means nothing to talk about being a neighbor if we also don't act as a neighbor. It means nothing to talk about world hunger if we also don't do something about world hunger. James says:
(James 2:14-17) What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? (15) Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. (16) If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? (17) In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
This reminds me of the World Summit on Sustainable Development that met recently in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Some 60,000 delegates from around the world met together to solve the problems of poor nations. While they were pondering what to do about world hunger – and they actually did nothing – they made sure that they themselves would not go hungry. Their food was prepared by the chef of a five-star hotel. He had stocked 1,000 pounds of lobster, 5,000 oysters, more than two tons of steak, 450 pounds of salmon, and half a ton of bacon and sausages. Not to mention thousands of bottles of vintage wine and champagne flown in from the best vineyards, and buckets of caviar. "Money is no object," said the chef, as indeed it was not, since taxpayers from participating nations picked up the tab.
B Today, World Hunger Sunday, let us focus on being neighbors to the world's hungry. Let's do more than just talk.
Boys and girls, do you know how you can be a neighbor to the world's hungry? Let me tell you:
-this morning you came forward with your Peter Fish filled with money to feed the hungry; by doing this you are being a neighbor
-between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas you are asked to bring canned and boxed food to church – vegetables, juice, soup, macaroni; Love INC will give it to poor people in our city; by giving canned and boxed foods for the poor, you are being a neighbor
As a congregation we have many local and denominational relief causes that we support:
-Sister Ursula's Kitchen
-Visalia Rescue Mission
-Visalia Emergency Aid
-Bethany Christian Services
-Habitat for Humanity
By giving, and giving generously, we are being a neighbor to those who are needy.
Today, we are called upon to be a neighbor to the poor and hungry of this world. However, it is impossible for any of us to be a neighbor or to act like a neighbor apart from the love of God. You see, to be a neighbor, to show love to the needy, stems from and through the love of God. It is verse 27 that connects the two:
(Lk 10:27) Love the Lord your God with all your heart ... and ... love you neighbor as yourself.This verse reminds us that love for God and love for neighbor are interconnected. This verse shows us it is impossible to love our neighbor unless we first love God. So, we need a relationship with God and His Son before we can live as neighbors. I urge you, then, to love God and His Christ. Bow before Jesus as Savior and Lord.
Then, as people saved by Jesus, as people filled with the power and love of Jesus, I can say to you, "Go and do likewise." "Go, and be a neighbor to all those in need." "Go, and be a neighbor to the poor and hungry of this world."
WORLD HUNGER LITANY
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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