Welcome everyone to our big summer study on The Parables of Jesus.  I’m really excited about this opportunity to study these awesome stories that Jesus shares with us, and I have to say as we get started here today that this first one that we are looking at today will challenge us a bit, and frankly, is a great lesson for us in the world that you and I are living in today.  A world that is very volatile, frankly very divisive, with groups of people rallying around their thoughts, beliefs, and world views…and today Jesus will challenge us with a story on just who our neighbor is…better stated, just who out there in this world we are supposed to love, help, and serve.  Just an awesome subject for the times we live in today…but before we dive into it, I wanted to start with this.  Jesus tells a lot of stories, did you ever notice that?  So often in the Gospels we read of moments where someone asks Jesus a question, or he is in a confrontation with the religious leaders, or he is just teaching a group of people and instead of just concisely answering their questions, or giving a straightforward teaching, he would respond with a story.  Have you ever wondered about why Jesus tells stories?  Well, so did his disciples, and he explained to them and all of us, why he tells stories in Matthew 13.  Check this out.

Matthew 13:10 The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?” 11 He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. 12 Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. 13 That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. MSG

So, Jesus is saying that He shared stories because not everybody was at a place where they could understand spirituality.  Not everyone is ready, not everyone can see with spiritual eyes, not everyone is able to understand these spiritual concepts, because their hearts aren’t ready, so he tells stories to create readiness and help nudge people towards understanding.  I love that phrasing ‘ready heart’, and Jesus says that when someone does have a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely.  So, this becomes a really important moment with an important question for us as we study Jesus’ teachings this summer.  Do you have a ready heart for this?  How would you answer that?  Let’s take a moment and pray that we will have ready hearts for Jesus’ teaching.  So, wherever you are, as you read this or are watching this, or if you are with me on Sunday morning, let’s stop right now and ask Jesus for ready hearts so that we can grasp and understand His teachings and apply them to our lives.  We want His insights and understanding to flow freely in our lives!

Let’s take a moment and pray for ready hearts.

So, in my introduction today I mentioned that I thought this first teaching was going to be very timely for the world you and I live in today.  Today we are going to look at one of Jesus’ parables that is very popular.  It is the story of The Good Samaritan which is found in Luke 10:29-37.  But before we read the parable, it’s important to see why Jesus tells it, and who and what He is responding to with this teaching.  So, if we move up the page a few verses we find the context, and what Jesus is responding to here with this awesome story.

Luke 10:25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered: “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”  28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  NIV

So, what do we see going on here?  Once again, a religious leader is testing Jesus, and stands up asking Jesus how we inherit eternal life.  Which is a great question, eternal life is the goal, so good question, but one that I find amazing when it’s asked to Jesus…because Jesus is the one that makes eternal life possible for us all.  Asking Jesus what ‘must I do to inherit eternal life’, when it’s all about what Jesus does, is fascinating to me.  But Jesus plays along and asks the man what is written in the law.  Well that is a question that would have excited this guy because he is an expert in the law, so he I am sure quickly and confidently replies, with an awesome answer.

Luke 10:27 He answered: “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”  NIV

Jesus says that he answered well and makes sure to tell him that he should live that out!  Very important and often overlooked part of our faith…especially for people who are stuck in religion…it’s one thing to know God’s word, memorize scripture and look or feel really smart, but it’s a whole other thing to live it out!  Now what is interesting is the expert in the law comes back looking for a way to justify himself or as it reads in the Message, looking for a loophole, trying to figure out how to define a neighbor, so he can figure out who he must love and frankly, who he doesn’t need to worry about!

Luke 10:29 Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?” MSG

I love this question, because first it’s just exposing the expert in the law’s heart on this day.  Ok Jesus, I don’t mind loving people, but who is it that I’m supposed to love…define it for me, label who my neighbor is so I can love them!  I will love who I have to love, but not everybody!  You know if this man truly has God’s love in his heart, flowing in and overflowing out of Him, he never asks this question…you wouldn’t be looking for the loophole on who to love, you would just love.  But I was thinking, this may be a question in many of our hearts today.  We live in such divisive times, with social media and our preferred news outlet leading the charge into more stress, more division, and frankly more distractions to what truly matters but also adding real stress to God’s most important command to love.  I mean Jesus tells us that in the end we must love God, and to love others and everything else comes from there, hanging from those two pegs.  So, the question in many hearts today may echo the religious leaders, who are we really willing to love or please define it, tell me who I must call my neighbors these days?  Jesus, please tell me, who is my neighbor?  Is it someone who voted the way I vote?  Is it someone who thinks the way I think?  Is it someone who believes what I believe?  Is my neighbor someone I’m comfortable with that’s easy for me to get along with or someone who may make me work to love them?  Is my neighbor someone who lives in my town and thinks how I think or could it be the idea of loving God and loving others is bigger than that.  So, before we hate on this religious leader too much, I wonder how many of our hearts may be asking Jesus the same type of question as we walk through life here in 2022.  Ok Jesus, just who do I have to love? I get it I’m to love you and love others, but please lay it out for me, just who are you forcing me to call my neighbor?  And Jesus does what Jesus does, he replies with a story…

Luke 10:30 Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. 31 “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. 32 A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. 33 “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. 34 Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35 The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’ 36 “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. 37 The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” NLT

I love this!  It breaks through all the labels, and all the loopholes and titles and complexities of religion and gets right to the heart of the matter.  Our story begins with a Jewish man on a trip to Jericho where he is attacked, beaten, and robbed and left for dead along the side of the road.  And we see three different people pass by, I think Jesus said the first was a Republican, the second a Democrat…oh wait, no that isn’t it…wow let me stay on track here.  I think maybe he didn’t define the party but said that the first to walk by watched Fox news, and the second watched CNN…and then the third watched…no that wasn’t it either.  Yikes.  What we find as the story gets started is that the first person to come down the road and see this poor, beaten man is a Priest.  And you would think this would be good news for our victim, and that he would be saved, that this priest who knows God’s law, teaches God’s law, and understands just how important loving others is, would have compassion and would help our poor guy laying there half dead, but he doesn’t.

Luke 10:31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. NIV

So, wow, this would have been hard to hear…but a couple things about the priest.  He lives inside a strict series of religious rules…one of which is that he can’t touch a dead person or be within 6 feet of a dead person, if he did touch a dead person, he would be considered unclean and by the rules would have to spend a lot of time and effort and resources to reverse that.  So, he may have felt bad for the guy, but ugh, all that work that he would have to do if helped this guy, especially if he died or is dead.  It would have been a whole thing for the priest…so he moves to the other side of the road and pretends to get a phone call as he goes by.  So, while the Priest would be highly respected as a man of God, he sure didn’t practice it here, did he?  What did Paul warn us about selfish ambition in our last study of the book of Philippians?

Philippians 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. NIV

So a couple things are going on here, this Priest was so focused on the religious rules that he places them above love…and Jesus told us the greatest thing we could do is to love God, and love people.  The priest also would have had to spend a lot of time and energy to clean himself after this, and just wasn’t willing to go out of his way for this guy.  You know what is interesting?  Jesus lived a life of loving others and told us to do the same.  Jesus never allowed religion to stop him from loving God and loving others.  It really upset those focused on the rules over a relationship with God and love.  Remember how upset they were that Jesus had the audacity to heal people on the Sabbath?  We get two amazing examples of this in John 5:1-18 where Jesus heals someone who was crippled for 38 years, and they are upset with Him for it, rather elated over the cripple now healed and in Mark 3:1-6 He heals a person with the shriveled hand.  Jesus models a life of love…while the religious leaders kept pointing to the law!  Jesus points to the heart. They were so focused on God’s law that they were missing what God is up to and the fact that God is love!  When you see someone focused on religion and the rules at the expense of people and love, it’s a sign that they are not experiencing a true, life giving, loving relationship with God that is flowing out of them and into others around them.  Jesus just kept pointing to love, He relentlessly loved God and loved others and it drove the religious people crazy…they were outraged as Jesus lived out the very words they were teaching and reading and had memorized in Scripture.  We see this in people today too.  They may know their Bible, and can quote Scripture but they aren’t living it out. So back to our story, the Priest is probably the one everyone thought would help this poor man out, but he isn’t willing to love this guy, and uses the rules of religion to avoid stepping into this messy situation.  I mean, not only was it against the rules but it would have really made his life complicated too am I right?

Can I ask you something?  Have you ever avoided helping someone because it would have made your life more difficult?  I mean, you could have helped but you can explain it away, or justify not helping them for one reason or another?  Take a moment and think about this.  What does it truly look like to put others first?

So, Jesus continues and the next person to come by is a Levite, or a Priest’s assistant.

Luke 10:32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. NIV 

We don’t have a ton of detail as to what the assistant to the priest was up to here, but some studies talk that maybe he was late or in a hurry.  If he was the priest’s assistant that just came by, he may have been hustling to catch up to his boss, or maybe he had an emergency to get to, but he also passes by on the other side of the road.  You know, I can say with great confidence that if the Levite was laying there in bad shape, he would hope that someone would have stopped to help him…but he moves to the other side of the road just like the priest he probably got his phone out and acted busy doing his best to avoid eye contact.  I think both guys had to have felt a little bad about this, but they aren’t willing to help.  They couldn’t put themselves in this poor guy’s shoes and help him out.  Makes me think of something Jesus taught in Matthew 7 as the essence of God’s law!

Matthew 7:12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. NIV

Pretty simple statement that you have probably heard before!

Matthew 7:12 “Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get. MSG

We have heard this before, right?  We should all be able to live this out and we can, if we don’t have selfish ambition in our lives.  We simply should treat others the way we would want to be treated…some call this The Golden Rule.  So, if you want others to help you, I’m thinking you should be willing to help.  You want to be treated fairly you then should be willing to treat people fairly.  You want to feel like your emotions, voice, and opinions are heard, then you should be willing to listen too.  If you want forgiveness, then forgive.  If you want mercy, then be merciful.  If you want respect, then be respectful!  I’m thinking that Levite would want help if he found himself in this terrible spot, but he didn’t follow the Golden Rule here and passed by on the other side of the road, getting really busy on his iPhone to avoid eye contact.

Can I ask you something?  Have you ever made excuses as to why you couldn’t help someone even though you maybe knew you probably should?  Could you take a moment right now and think about your life and what it would look like if you were living out Jesus’ teaching…it’s interesting, how many of us can quote the Golden Rule…so the question isn’t if we know it, the question is, can we, or are we willing to live it out.

Then we finally have someone who can help, and Jesus says he is a Samaritan, a foreigner who would be considered less godly and wouldn’t be liked by the people Jesus is telling the story to, and how did it go?

Luke 10:33 “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. 34 Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35 The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’  NLT

The Samaritan didn’t box and label this poor person in need.  He didn’t pull out his rule book and see if he was breaking any rules, and he didn’t look through the loopholes to see if he could figure out a way to not help.  He didn’t look at his schedule and realize he didn’t have the time or his wallet to make sure he had the money…he didn’t judge him or ask what he could get out of this, he simply had compassion for another human being and loved him…regardless of who or what or where he was from.  I don’t know if you picked up on this as we read it, but Jesus made a point to say that he soothed his wounds with oil and wine.  This is very important because in those days pouring oil and wine would have been considered an act of worship.  So, we see two important, respected, and godly people ignore this injured person in need, and now a despised Samaritan not only stops to help but pours out oil and wine for this person, which is considered an act of worship.  The priest and Levite didn’t see mercy and compassion as an act of worship, but Jesus is showing us here that He (Jesus) absolutely does!  But the Samaritan doesn’t stop there; he takes the man to an inn, allowing him to ride his own donkey, taking the time, energy, money, and resources to help this man.  This is such a big deal.  Think about what Jesus is saying, this guy is in a terrible spot and the two people who most would respect as godly people ignore him, not willing to practice what they preach!  You know when I think about these guys so focused on the rules, I think of something powerful written in James about not doing something you know you should do…

James 4:17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. NLT

So, I want you to see this, Jesus intentionally chose a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan for this story and He is once again exposing religion and heart conditions.  He is challenging us to stop looking for loopholes, to stop labeling, ranking, and trying to figure out who we must love and who we don’t have to love because they aren’t by definition our neighbor.  We are to love God with all our hearts and to love others.  He also makes a point to show us that loving others, serving others is an act of worship.  So we need to stop looking for reasons not to love others, and stop with the calloused rule following to the point where it hurts people, and stop with the labelling and stop putting ourselves in front of others, and start treating others as we would want to be treated.  It would have been hard for these people listening to Jesus to hear that the Samaritan helped, and the Priest and Levite did not, but if they had a ready heart, and were able to process the story, it probably wasn’t surprising…maybe hard to hear, but not shocking by any means.   Then Jesus ends this parable by turning back to the religious leader who sparked this discussion and asks him who his neighbor is, then gives us the most important challenges, the most important lesson we have as we follow Christ.

Luke 10:36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” NIV

He makes the religious leader see that his neighbor is everyone, and that we are to act with love and mercy towards others…it would have been hard for the religious leader to say it was the Samaritan who showed mercy, then Jesus tells him the key.  He says, don’t just know that…now GO AND DO LIKEWISE…Live It Out!  And so should we.  So as we close out our study on this awesome parable from Jesus I would like you really asking and answering some questions for yourself here today.

Do you find yourself walking through life today really struggling with the concept of loving others?  Listen we get it, we have met people too, they aren’t always that easy to love but maybe there is some people or a group of people or just some things going on in culture today that have you wondering who exactly you have to love because some people don’t agree with you, or believe in what you believe in or just make it hard to love them…do you find yourself just wondering, Jesus I get I am supposed to love others, but who exactly do I have to love?

Now as you ask yourself that, some people that you are struggling with may have just come to mind…do you pray for those people that you wish weren’t your neighbor? 

Do you feel that you love God with all your heart and soul and mind?  Do you feel that you are able to love others well?

If you are honest are there some people that you would probably stop and help, and others that you wouldn’t stop and help or serve? 

So maybe you want to serve and love others, but you just can’t.  What stops you from loving and serving and helping others?  For so many of us we would want to help, but we can’t because we just don’t have any margin in our lives to help others.  We say this often here at MRC, but you can’t give what you do not have.  If you have no margin you can’t serve.  If you have no time, you have no time to give to others.  If you have no money, you can’t be generous with others.  If you are too busy you just can’t stop and care and maybe can’t even see the needs of people around you, because you cannot give what you do not have.  So, one last question before we close…

What can you do to find the health and margin needed to live out the greatest commandment, to love God and love others?

We love you and hope this summer series studying Jesus’ parables is not only life changing for you but for all those around you as well and when we live out the life of a Christian, the life Jesus modeled for us…it will be.