Love Thy Neighbor, Who is My Neighbor?
Dueteronomy 30: 9-14
Colossians 1: 1-14
Luke 10: 25-37
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Strength and
Love thy neighbor as thyself -- one of the Commandments. What does it mean? Really mean?
If I don't hold myself in high esteem, high regard and I don't take good care of my needs and I do likewise with
my neighbors, am I not loving my neighbors like I do my own self? The reverse of that is true as well then. Let's
say I'm well oriented and grounded in my love of myself and because I am it is how I also attend to my neighbors.
In Deuteronomy we are give the words Moses gives to his peopole to obey the commandments and the book of law and
they can expect to prosper. Why is that? Is it the act of obedience that garners God's rewards? What are
the commandments if not a guideline for how to live together in community in some kind of harmony that reduces the effect
of doing harm to one another. Are the Commandments absolute as written? Can we actually follow each of the Commandments
NO. A resounding No on that one. Not then, not now. So why are we set up to fail in God's Wisdom
of giving us the Commandments? Does God want us to fail, expect we will fail? How can we fail when we are made
in his likeness, his own perfect creation? Does that mean God is not perfect and is fallible then if we are in
his likeness? Does that mean God struggles with himself not unlike we do with ourselves? Does God love his neighbors
as himself? If God is the ultimate supreme being, excellent beyond our total comprehension, then maybe He has no neighbor
to consider, only all His creations which are subordinate to His supremacy. If this is so, why then give us the Impossible
taksings to fulfill?
In fact, why bother at all, as clearly the cars are stacked against us start to finish. Let us break all
the rules, all the Commandments and suffer God's wrath. Isn't that the message the bible seems to say and these verses
today seem again to give an either/or concept, do it and do it right.. or else ...
Or else you will not prosper; or else you will fail; or else you will lose your place in the Kingdom; or
else you will be disinherited, disowned; or else you will be disenfranchised; or else you will fall to Satan's powers; or
else you will be among evil and evil doings.
Struggle on, the words of the bible seem to tell us. The path is narrow. The way is hard. Don't fall
away, the temptations are great along the way. Live the righteous life and you will have your reward. The list
of Do and the list of Don'ts. Do this and you will be on the right path; don't do this and you will be on the right
path. What's the alternative if I find I don't like the path at all? The fear of evil, the fear of Satan?
The fear of loss of inclusiveness in God's circle? The fear of retaliation from a vengeful God? The fear of retribution?
The fear of accountability for my actions and behaviors?
I'm weary of Fear and I'm weary of having my life governed by Fear-based reactions.
Who is my neighbor that I am to love in compassion and care? The people at church; the community where I
live; my family; the eco-environment of all living things; the creatures that share space with us at our home where we live;
the homeless man I saw sitting on the curb yesterday; those foreign countries with people of whom I know very little about;
the proclaimed enemies of our country that our President calls evil-doers and thugs? How about the robbers and theives
in today's parable who beat and nearly killed the man, are we to love them too?
That, I think, is the crux of the parable often called the Good Samaritan. Would he be a bad Samaritan if
he hadn't helped the victimized man? Does that mean the Priest and the Levite who did not help the victim were not good?
Is the man good because he was a victim of a crime that nearly killed him?
What are the words Jesus uses when asked the question "who is my neighbor"? Jesus asks which of these three,
in your opinion, acted like the neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? Answered -- the one who
This, I think, has Jesus showing us that the meanings of communal law are going to change, or at least expand
beyond presently understood definitions. Earlier in this sequence, Jesus referred us to the written law upon being asked
how to have eternal life. I think this tells us that if we rely strictly on communal law as written, we can expect an
outcome of eternal life having followed written law ver batim. For those who are satisfied with a simplistic script,
this is enough of an answer and all that is needed of Jesus to give. But we know, we absolutely know through our own
failures in personal life experiences, we can Not live in full accordance to the laws as written.
I am given to understand that a teaching style of Jesus time was for a Rabbi to speak and another to query or
question so the Rabbi could then proceed to elaborate and deepen the meaning for the listeners. It was a kind of
protocol of the time. To me, this means that these were not always challenges to Jesus teachings, rather an established
protocol to open opportunities to expand on the teaching.
Which Jesus proceeds to do when asked "who is my neighbor"? He gives us the parable and examples of 3 different
responses to a man victimized, hurt and wounded, and in need of compassion from someone -- anyone.
We aren't told if the victim is Judean, and I'm not altogether sure we should assume he was. We aren't positive
the Priest that passes by and doesn't lend a hand is Judean as Priests were also in other cultures/religions of that time.
We can garner that the Levite was Judean. History indicates there was enmity between Judeans and Samaritans so it would
be in keeping with the norm of that time for the Samaritan to also pass by, in fact, it might even be expected the Samaritan
would be unlikely to lend a helping hand.
From the victim's point of view, he might expect the Levite would have helped, being of the same culture
and religion; certainly would not have expected the Samaritan to help. And the Priest being a Priest, no matter what
culture or religion could be expected to help based on priestly principles. No? There is that whole matter of
Judean priests not touching anything unclean.
A broader message then could be that people will find themselves in unfortunate circumstances and compassion may
come from unexpected sources, even a perceived enemy who acts with compassion. This points to a more inclusive
way of communal living than the written communal law. This then, coming from Jesus, Son of God, points us in a direction
of a different face of God, one of compassion and inclusiveness, one that overrides fear and one of promise and hope where
fear and despair used to reside.
In Jesus own human life example, at his own suffering and death, his own people did not lend a compassionate,
helping hand. Rather his own people turned him over for crucifixion, his disciples, the closest of his followers, were
not at his side, one even denied him. Did Jesus know it would be people outside the faith that would accept his Christ-ness
and take up the cause as their own? Did Jesus know that what was perceived as enemies to the faith and culture would
become the prominent leaders in spreading the faith, followers of Christ?
Is the message in the parable to be kind to neighbors as you would be kind and compassionate to yourself, or is
another meaning behind the obvious to realize that how we define neighbors is subject to change, changing roles, changing
dynamics and changing meanings? Is the message to love God, obey the rules and earn eternal life or is that too
narrow a formula and an expanded message of defining God The message?
If we want God to be more, then don't we have to be more, if indeed, we are in His likeness, His creations, His
beloved and loved souls? If we are to love God with all of ourselves, then don't we first have to love ourselves?
And if we can do that, then we can love our neighbors as ourselves, in compassion.
sermon by Lietta Ruger,
written July 12, 2004