A Tale of Two Brothers; who is my neighbour?.
Luke 10:25–37 and Amos 7:7–17.




I would like to take some time and explore the question of; who is my neighbour? We currently live in a world full of turmoil, conflict and hatred. It would not be unreasonable if somebody asked us if we should class groups such as Al Qaeda, or the Taliban, or possibly the Muslim brotherhood or even in an extreme case the Ku Klux Klan, as our neighbours. Should we love these people or should we loathe them and detest them?

 

From today’s Bible reading (Luke 10:25-37) we are presented with the only account of what is probably one of the most recognised of Jesus parables. It explores how our Lord wants us to act in relationship to our family, friends and more importantly other human beings (our neighbours).

 

Does our Lord really want us to love those who would terrorise us, hold us to ransom, cause us grief and worry and make us apprehensive of the future?

 

What I am going to be looking at today is the parable of the Good Samaritan and it is so popular that I don’t believe there would be many alive today who have not heard it. It is a story about human relationships and how if we are not careful we can let our own religiosities get in the way of our spiritual lives, especially as we go about the process of trying to find and do God’s will.

 

However, I wonder how many people really know why Jesus chose to use a Samaritan as the good guy in this parable. Of all the people that he could have used as an example, why did he choose a Samaritan, especially considering all of the different people groups that existed in the culture of his day?

 

So, before I start to unpack the story of the Good Samaritan I want to give some context to the situation in Israel at the time of its telling and highlight the relationship that existed between the Jews and the Samaritans and why Jesus choose a Samaritan.

 

You may have noticed that I chose two Bible readings for today and not just one. The lectionary readings for today include a reading from the book of Amos 7:7–17 and it is there I believe we will find a hint to help us unlock the true meaning behind the parable of the Good Samaritan.

 

At first glance it is hard to see how these two passages (Luke 10:25–37) and Amos (7:7–17) come together, especially as there seems to be no connecting thread or theme on which we can anchor these two readings. However, if we spend some time reflecting on these two passages we find why when the lectionary was put together these two passages were chosen as a pair.

 

The first thing I would like to take a look at is the reading from Amos 7 and the history behind it. I hope in doing so that I might be able to demonstrate that connecting thread between them. The Prophet Amos 7:12ff was called into service by God at around 750 BC, a time when Israel was divided into two kingdoms. He was called to prophesy in the northern kingdom of Israel because of the abuse of power within the social structure and their compromise with paganism in the religious life of its people.

 

A fuller account of what happened to tear the kingdom in two can be found in 1 Kings 11 and 1 Kings 12. However, let me give you some of the background behind it.

 

With the death of King Solomon (around 931 BC), his son Rehoboam came to the throne of what was then a United Kingdom of Israel. We read in this account (in 1 Kings 12:1-12) that Rehoboam after the death of Solomon travelled to Shechem in the north to be inaugurated as King of what was a united Israel. He did this just as all previous kings from the past had. It was a tradition.

 

Unfortunately, Rehoboam he like his father continued to exact a huge toll of taxation or tribute upon the people. David and Solomon had introduced taxation because for the first time in Israel’s history it needed a strong standing army and a public works program. As a result people started to get restless and groaned under the burden of taxation by the monarchy and had become restless and looked for change.

 

When Rehoboam first took office as the King of the Israel he sought the advice of those around him, many of whom had been his father’s advisers. He asked them what he should do about the unrest amongst his people, especially after a Jeroboam and the people partitioned for an answer to what he was going to do (1 Kings 12:3-5).   He was advised by that older group to lighten the burden. Unfortunately, he chose to ignore that advice and instead followed advice giving by a group of younger men with whom he had grown up. They encouraged him to continue to exact the taxes just as his father had and to actually increase them.

 

As a result he not only keeps taxes high but increases the tax burden of those under him. This was to be his biggest mistake and cost him dearly.

 

The result of course was inevitable and the northern part of Israel rebelled against the Rehoboam and proclaimed Jeroboam (see 1 Kings 11:28-40) as their King, completely ending the tenuous relationship that had existed between the two parts of the kingdom (north and south). Thereafter, was born the divided kingdoms of Judah in the south (consisting of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi, although the Levite’s were scattered throughout both kingdoms) and Israel in the north (which consisted of the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Ephraim and Manasseh) (1 Kings 12:1-33.)

 

Jeroboam, (see 1 Kings 11:28-40) who had been a servant of the Solomon, was installed as the new King of Israel (the northern kingdom) was faced with a unique dilemma. Jerusalem which was the southern area of Judea had by now become the main focus for worship to God (Yahweh). As such it contained all of the apparatus needed to maintain the sacrificial system and fulfil the requirements of the covenant that God had made with Abraham. That apparatus included such things as the Temple itself, the Ark of the Covenant and the holy of holies along with all the rituals and sacrifices practiced by the priests and Levites.

 

In an effort to stop those living in the northern kingdom of Israel from remaining tied to the temple in Jerusalem and continuing to journey there for worship and the religious festivals, Jeroboam’s first task was to establish an official state religious cult somewhere in the north of what was then called Israel. The cult was needed to fulfil the worship needs of the population and supply a means and place to celebrate God’s eternal covenant.

 

Jeroboam however, was faced with one major problem. That problem was one of, “theological legitimacy.” In order to accomplish this Jeroboam set up two places of worship in the north, one at Bethel and the other at Dan. He had golden calves made as symbols for God’s presence in these temples; just as the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant represented the place where God’s presence was found in Jerusalem Temple. This of coarse was reminiscent of the Golden calf made during the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 32:1-29) and became source of tension between Judah and Israel.

 

Jeroboam effectively setup a state religion, one to which his people would be forever tied. It must be said here, that since the time of the settlement of Israel and the establishment of the 12 tribal areas (Reuben, Simeon, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Ephraim and Manasseh), the northern part of the kingdom had always contained a leftover Canaanite influence with regards to the religious practices of it’s people, due in part to the fact that many of it’s original occupants still lived there. The people of the exodus had failed to completely remove all of the previous occupants as they had been instructed to during the conquest of the promised land (Joshua 13:1-13).

 

As a result many in the north still practised different varieties of Pagan worship, the end result being that when many of them inter-married with the Jewish population of the north, many of their practices were eventually incorporated into the religion of the state.

 

This was particularly something that the Jews in the south were never able to forget or forgive and continued to hold against those from the north right through until and beyond the time of Jesus. In Jesus day those in the north were seen as half breeds or less than full human beings.

 

In his effort to attain theological legitimacy Jeroboam also made Shechem (which was the place where kings had been traditionally been anointed) his capital city. Shechem was itself in fact a city with a rich history for the Jewish people. Abraham worshipped there (Genesis 12:6). Jacob built an altar and purchased land there (Genesis 33:18-20). Joseph was buried there (Joshua 24:32). It was also the geographical centre of the northern tribes.

 

In doing this Jeroboam effectively divided not only the two kingdoms physically but also divided them spiritually. One people became two people and eventually followed different paths of worshiping God (Yahweh). As time went on the northern kingdom began to be referred to as Samaria and the religion of Jeroboam with its pagan influences was seen as an anathema to the people of Judah.

 

In the eyes of those in the south, who had remained faithful to the covenant made between God and Abraham, Jerusalem continued to be seen as the centre for the practice and worship of early Judaism. Those in the north or the Samaritans (as they were later called) became in the eyes of the southern kingdom apostate or to use a term used in the early Church they were basically excommunicated from the faith.

 

Amos’s role as a prophet was to call the northern kingdom to repentance and to prophesy its eventual downfall. Unfortunately, like many prosperous nations throughout history the population of the northern kingdom became quite affluent with the result that the rich became richer and the poor became poorer. Like all of the prophets from the eighth century BC, Amos (see Amos 1:1-15) declared there was no justice to be found in the land, and that the poor were oppressed and dispossessed while at the same time those of the northern kingdom failed to keep proper faith with God.

 

Amos’s prophecies apparently started to cut deep into the psyche of the then King Jeroboam II and Amaziah the high priest. Amos was eventually ordered by the high priest not to prophesy anymore in the land of Israel (Amos 7:12-13).
12Then Amaziah said to Amos: “Go, you seer! Flee to the land of Judah. There eat bread, And there prophesy.
13 But never again prophesy at Bethel, For it is the king’s sanctuary, And it is the royal residence.”

 

In the years after their separation the two kingdoms went on to fight several wars against each other and there was a lot of treachery and subterfuge that went on which meant there was a gradual increase in eminently or hatred that grew up between them. So much so that in later times, when those from the southern kingdom returned from their exile in Babylon to rebuild the Temple (approx 538 BC), those from the north were not allowed to help in the rebuilding projects (Ezra 4:1-5). This of course caused a certain amount of conflict between the two parties. In other words you could say the Samaritans were basically shunned.

 

There is of course much more to this story but for our purposes this gives us enough background so we can understand the depth of loathing that existed between these two peoples who were once one. It could be said then that the Jews basically hated and despised the Samaritans. As I said earlier the Jews saw the Samaritans as less than human.

 

In all of this we must remember that the Jewish people from Judah were part of the same family of people as those who became the Samaritans. They were blood brothers so to speak.

 

Next, I want to look at the passage from Luke 10:25–37. Jesus has just witnessed the return of the 70 that he had sent out to proclaim his gospel, and is confronted by a lawyer who asks, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (See Psalm 34:12ff). Jesus in his usual manner answers the question with another question. Jesus asks him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?

 

The lawyer answered him saying, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, ‘and your neighbour as yourself. ‘” (Luke 10:27). This lawyer was of course not a lawyer in the sense that we understand one today but was more of an interpreter of the biblical law rather than someone who would stand up and defend people in a court of law.

 

Jesus goes on to probe for a deeper answer, sensing that the lawyer is seeking to test him, especially when he asks Jesus, “who is my neighbour?” This gives our Lord an opportunity to present a parable that will not only challenge the lawyer and his understanding and interpretation of the law but will also shock anybody who hears it. It is in fact quite a radical story if we consider the opinion of the Jews towards the Samaritans.

 

As I said the parable of the Good Samaritan is probably one of the best-known parables that Jesus delivered during his earthly ministry, so why did he particularly choose to use the road from Jerusalem to Jericho as the place for this encounter? And why did he choose to have a Samaritan in the story?

 

The reason I believe he used the road to Jericho is because it was so treacherous, especially considering that it was a winding narrow cliff road leading down the side of a steep mountain, one that was barely wide enough for one person let alone several. It was well known at that time that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was an area known for its bandits, considering there were so many places to hide and ambush a passerby.

 

Rather than retell the story I would like to look at the responses of those three individuals who came upon the injured man. The priest of course was on his way to Jericho after having finished his service at the Temple in Jerusalem. Where I imagine he would have carried out all the different forms and rituals needed to fulfil the covenant. He probably would have been, I think a Pharisee and his response would have been fairly typical considering that the man was apparently half dead.

 

For the Pharisees to even touch what could possibly be a dead corpse would have ritually defiled them. It was something which they avoided at all costs, even if that meant putting that ritual purity first before compassion. Their role in the Temple was dependant upon their ritual cleanliness and they sort to keep the law right down to every dot and tittle. In the Jewish religion there were several schools of thought with regards to which way and order the different commandments should be practiced.

 

Firstly, there was the “School of Shammai” which had a very rigid interpretation of the law. Many commentators believe that the Pharisees mostly belonged to this school of thought.

Secondly, there was the “School of Hillel” which was more relaxed in the way in which they interpreted the law and how it should be practised. This school of thought was considered to be mainly made up of Sadducees.

 

So strict was the “School of Shammai “in its interpretation of the law that many believe that keeping law was more important than loving your neighbour.

 

Likewise, the Levite who was one of those who were responsible for carrying out the different tasks in the Temple system, was unwilling to be defiled, rather than show compassion towards this injured man. It is possible that he also could have been a Pharisee. It is of course hard to imagine somebody who would rather put keeping the law before helping others, but in the time of Jesus many of the religious groups within the Temple system seemed to be paranoid about doing so. It is a sad indictment against them and Jesus knew this as he was telling the story.

 

This is not unlike some today where we see many who would rather put barriers around their religious lives rather than take a chance that they may somehow be infected by those around them.

 

I’m sure in the mind of the lawyer who some commentators believe was a Sadducee, what Jesus tells of next would have come not only as a shock but also with some astonishment. He may have believed that the person who was going to come to the aid of the dying man would in fact be a Sadducee. In his culture, that would have been the logical conclusion to the parable.

 

This leads to my second point, the last thing the lawyer would have expected was that our Lord would have introduced a Samaritan into this equation because as we know now the Jews hated and despised them. These people were seen as the lowest of the low, outcasts; in fact a good Pharisee or Sadducee travelling through the northern part of the kingdom would make a detour around Samaria rather than travel through it, even if it meant an extra 100 miles of travel.

 

This hatred and loathing is contrast against the compassion and mercy that was shown to the injured man by the Samaritan. We read that the Samaritan took compassion on him (Luke 10:33). The underlying Greek word ("esplanchnisthe")
"esplanchnisthe" used here has a far richer meaning than our English equivalent, just as many other Greek words do. For example the word love can be expressed in three different ways (agape ‘the love that God has for us’, ‘phileo the love we have for one another’ and ‘eros which is classed as sexual or erotic love‘). That deeper meaning behind compassion can only be expressed in a phrase such as, “to be filled with heartfelt mercy” or even “to have mercy from one’s inner core. “ It implies a deep internal feeling of sympathy and empathy as contrast to attitude of the priest and the Levite. The Samaritans feelings are translated into a sacrificial action of compassion.

 

At the end of the passage where Jesus asks the lawyer which one of the three was the man’s neighbour the lawyer is unable to even express the word Samaritan. So great was his hatred for them that he replies instead, “he who showed mercy on him” (Luke 10:37).

 

If one thing can be said about Jesus’ parables it is that they aim to lead us to a decision. What is more important, keeping the law, traditions, rules, regulations, personal prejudices or showing those around us that they like us are created in the image of God and deserve our love no matter what they have done?

 

On the cross Jesus in an act of supreme love, cried out “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34). Even during his darkest hour and enduring what must have been the most agonising suffering our Lord did not condemn those who were crucifying him but rather asked for their forgiveness before God. It was the ultimate act of love and compassion demonstrated to us, so that I believe we could gain some idea of how far we should go when it comes to loving our neighbour.

 

Another example would be that of the apostle Stephen who as he is being stoned (Acts 7:59-60) calls out to God and asks, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.”

 

I want to ask a question. Who are the Samaritans in our society? Who are those in our society that we most look down upon because I’m sure that if we are truly honest with ourselves, there is always one particular element in our society that we each find unlovable.

 

We live in a world that is crying out for love and compassion and the sad reality is that in many cases people are unable to find it within the church at large. The church is the very place that the people of the world should be able to walk into at any time and find acceptance. Too often we condemn them or place conditions on our acceptance of them, asking them to immediately change all their old ways, so as to conform to our understanding of what God wants from us.

 

We forget that we too came to Jesus as broken fallen people asking him accept us as we were; sinful, full of foibles, full of insecurities, complete with our own prejudices and opinions.

 

Who then is our neighbour? As we are all created in the image of God all people no matter their ethnicity, religion, politics or lifestyle are our neighbours and we should love them as we love ourselves. This does not mean that we should condone inappropriate behaviour but rather that we should be excepting and loving towards our neighbour in the hope that we might be an instrument in bringing them to a saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

So, how can I or you express our love for my neighbour? Here are three practical ways:

1. "Weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15). Grieve with them. Sometimes the greatest sermon is silence.

2. "Bear one another's burdens" (Galatians 6:2). Come alongside the weak and help them carry the load. The Good Samaritan is a great example of this.

3. "Pray for one another" (James 5:16). This helps people focus on the fact that God is in control. And may I add: Pray with them, not just for them.

Be that source of comfort, as God has comforted you!

 

These are the words of a popular song by a group called Foreigner and it highlights the need in the world for understanding of what love is.

I want to know what love is. By Foreigner.

 

I got to take a little time

A little time to think things over

I better read between the lines

In case I need it when I'm older

 

Now this mountain I must climb

Feels like a world upon my shoulders

And through the clouds I see love shine

It keeps me warm as life grows colder

 

In my life there's been heartache and pain

I don't know if I can face it again

Can't stop now, I've travelled so far

To change this lonely life

 

I want to know what love is

I want you to show me

I want to feel what love is

I know you can show me

 

I'm going to take a little time

A little time to look around me

I've got nowhere left to hide

It looks like love has finally found me

 

In my life there's been heartache and pain

I don't know if I can face it again

I can't stop now, I've travelled so far

To change this lonely life

 

I want to know what love is

I want you to show me

I want to feel what love is

I know you can show me

I want to know what love is

I want you to show me

And I want to feel, I want to feel what love is

And I know, I know you can show me

 

Let's talk about love

(I want to know what love is) the love that you feel inside

(I want you to show me) I'm feeling so much love

(I want to feel what love is) no, you just cannot hide

(I know you can show me) yeah,

I want to know what love is, let's talk about love

(I want you to show me) I want to feel it too

(I want to feel what love is) I want to feel it too

And I know, and I know, I know you can show me

Show me what is real, yeah I know

(I want to know what love is) hey I want to know what love

(I want you to show me), I want to know, I want to know, want know

(I want to feel what love is), hey I want to feel, love

I know you can show me.

New and Updated Articles of Interest.
Sin and Forgiveness in the Psalms.Sin and Forgiveness in the Psalms.
What does the book of Psalms tell us about sin?
Who is my Neighbour?
Have you ever wondered who your Neighbour should be? Jesus teach us the we should love them.A sermon from Luke 10:25-37.
Understanding the Holy Spirit.
This a sermon I delivered on Sunday 26th May 2013.(My 40th Wedding Aniversary.)
The Resurrection of Jesus.
This a sermon I delivered on Easter Sunday 2013.
Who am I and why do I exist?
The answer to the question (Who am I and why do I exist?) lies within Psalm 8 and as each individual exegete studies the passage they will notice that there are numerous textual problems.
Sexuality in the Church.
Is there no joy to be found in the church today for homosexuals?
Alcoholism in the Family.
The object of this essay is to highlight the strategies a pastoral carer would use when responding to a call for help from a family with an alcoholic mother..
The Letter to Romans.
What was Paul's reason for writing to the Church in Rome?
The Canon of Scripture.
Critically Evaluate the Argument that the Canon of Scripture is Closed.
The Wrath of God.
What is a Paul's View of the Wrath of God? How can we apply this to the AIDS epidemic?