Luke 10 v 25-37-Love like Jesus-16th February 2014-Duncan Bell

Luke 10:25-37

Introduction: over familiarity

The story of the Good Samaritan is one that has entered our language and we are hugely familiar with. A “Good Samaritan” is now anyone who comes to the aid of a stranger. In just the last few days, the Guardian described a man who pulled someone from a burning car as a “good Samaritan”.

This parable has given its name to the Samaritans – the charity seeking to support people experiencing feelings of distress, despair or suicidal thoughts, but the charity only picked up the name as a nickname – courtesy of the press when they were founded.

Think for a minute – what would you say the point of the story is? I want us to see that the story is not primarily about encouraging us to stop when we see someone broken down by the side of the road.

So if you think you know the story, can I encourage you today to stop, and see it afresh with new eyes? Because you might just discover something quite different about the story. You might discover that you’re not the person in the story who you think you are, and the story isn’t teaching you what you think it is.

So this morning, we’re going to look at this story from three different angles, and each time we’re going to notice something a little bit different.

Pass one: Crazy standards

25-29. On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" 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 neighbour as yourself.'" "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?"

I wonder if you’ve ever thought about who the story is being told to before? Who is telling a story and who is listening to a story makes a huge difference to our understanding of a story. And the first hint that we get that there might be more to this story than we’ve seen before comes here. Jesus isn’t telling this story to his disciples, seeking to tell them how to live as followers of Jesus. He’s speaking to an expert in the law, who has come to test Jesus. He wants to know what Jesus thinks he needs to do to gain eternal life.

And Jesus turns the question back to him, and he replies with the two great commandments – to love God and love his neighbour. This is a well-known summary of all the Old Testament law. And Jesus says to him, “Do this and you will live.” Keep all the law, and you’ll be fine.

But this isn’t good enough for our expert in the law. He wants to justify himself. He wants to know that he’s good enough; that he’s done enough.  “Justify” is one of those funny Bible words. It’s a word that we more commonly use these days in connection with Microsoft Word. But really, it’s about showing yourself right. When we justify ourselves, we give the reasons why we’re in the right. And this teacher of the law wants to justify the way that he has treated others. He wants Jesus to say, “Yes, you’ve fulfilled the requirements of the law. You’ve done enough. You will inherit eternal life.”

And I think this question is one that a lot of people ask. Have I done enough? When I rock up at the gates of Heaven, will St Peter let me in? I’ve been a good person; I’ve tried to live a good life - to love my neighbours, but have I done enough?

30-32 “In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.”

I’d never be like them. I’m a good person.

But Jesus continues the story to show what being a neighbour really means. We might expect Jesus to round out the trio of the Priest and the Levite with an ordinary layman – an ordinary Jew, like this very man. But instead, Jesus is going to show him what it really means to love one’s neighbour all the time.

33-37 “But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. `Look after him,' he said, `and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' 

All of a sudden the story is turned on its head. To care for one’s own is one thing – that’s clearly part of loving your neighbour. But a Samaritan man caring like that?

Why the hatred of the Samaritans? The Samaritans are descendants of the Israelites. They used to be part of Israel. When the Israelite nation split in 930BC, these guys were the Northern tribes known as Israel, who were judged for their sin, and were scattered by the Assyrians in 722BC. The Southern tribes were known as Judah, and although they were carried off into Exile, they returned, and stayed as the Jewish nation. But the northern tribes were scattered, and those who were left in the land intermarried with new people who were brought in. So they were viewed as traitors.

The animosity between the tribes was intense. Think civil war – Northern Ireland, Rwandan genocide, South Sudan, Apartheid. To a loyal Jew, a Samaritan was a non-person.

So for a Samaritan to love a Jew, and treating him as a neighbour, that’s a whole new level of neighbour love.

The expert in the law thinks he’s sorted. He thinks he’s the one who can sort out others. He thinks he’s done enough to warrant eternal life. He thinks his future is secure. He thinks entrance to heaven is merely a question of a tick box form. I’m better than those people so I’ll be OK.

But Jesus wants him to see that his standards are way too low. If salvation is a matter of keeping the laws and ticking the boxes, then most of the boxes are not ticked. Just because he’s above average, doesn’t mean that he’s made the grade.

How fit do you think you are? I’m not very fit at the moment, but during my undergraduate days, believe it or not, I could hold my own. I used to take part in various long-distance fell races – half marathons, marathons, and ultra-marathons, all off road, involving very tricky navigation sometimes running at night and in winter conditions. But I wonder if you’ve heard about the recruitment tests for the SAS – that elite branch of the armed forces? The test lasts for six months. Only a couple of percent pass rate, and you only get two shots at it. The final stage of the "hills" phase of selection is known as "Test Week" which consists of six marches on consecutive days with ever increasing weights to be carried and distances to be marched. The second to last day involves a 22 mile march with only a hand-drawn sketch map. But then they have to do a march called the "Endurance", a 40mile march across the Brecon Beacons, completed in less than 20 hours loaded in excess of fifty five pounds plus water, food and rifle. But this isn’t the hardest test. The hardest test is called an evasion exercise, part of their Survive, Evade, Resist, Extract training. You are dressed in a greatcoat to restrict movement and have to operate in a small group. Other, qualified, special forces, with all the Special Forces kit, are sent out to try and capture you. You can be on the run for days, and if you’re captured, you’ll be required to undergo what the SAS neatly call “a Tactical Questioning stage”. To you and me, this means interrogation. They’re starved of food, water, sleep, and interrogated. In fact, even if they manage to avoid being captured when on the run, they still end up having to undergo “tactical questioning.”

All of a sudden my runs around the Peak District don’t look so great. Above average doesn’t cut it for this sort of standard.

And I think something similar is going on here. Faced with a man who thinks he’s good enough, Jesus wants him to see that he’s not even close. Just because he might be above average, doesn’t mean he makes the grade.

"Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

The Samaritan loved the person who hated him.

If he wants to justify himself, he’s going to have to raise his game. Not just doing this once, but doing this with every enemy, every time. Massively.Permanently.Impossibly. This isn’t a reasonable standard for someone to keep, it’s a crazy standard.

And friends, if you’re here today, and you think that when you face St Peter at the gates of Heaven, you’ll be OK because you’ve lived a good enough life, then I want you to grasp and realise that your standards are way too low. God’s standard is simple: perfection. Complete love for him, and complete love for your neighbour. And your neighbour is not just the people you like. Loving your neighbour includes perfect love for your enemy.

But let’s not end here. Because this story is not just about crazy standards for life, but it’s about crazy love being shown.

Pass two: Being shown crazy love

I wonder if you’ve come across those quizzes one sometimes sees. You answer a bunch of questions, and it tells you which Jane Austen character you’re most like, or which homeland character, or which star wars character.

And we always want to be identified with a hero in the story. Always Harry, never Malfoy.Always Luke, never Darth Vader.Always Lizzy Bennett never Charlotte Lucas.

And I think something similar is going on in this story. Which character do we identify with? We naturally identify ourselves with the hero of the story – the Samaritan. But we’ve already seen that the original hearer of this story, the expert in the law, would never identify himself with the Samaritan. They were the hated enemy. End of the story…

And I wonder if you noticed that Jesus turned the story around. The expert in the law asks the question: “Who is my neighbour?” But that’s not the question that Jesus answered. The question Jesus answered was, “Who was a neighbour to that man?”

Jesus does not want the expert in the law to associate himself with the Samaritan – with the man who is doing the helping. Jesus wants the man to associate himself with the man being helped – the half dying man in the ditch.

He wants the man not just to see that his standards are too low, but also that he’s in need of a rescuer himself.

And Jesus presents the man with an unlikely saviour – a Samaritan man who rips his own clothes and spends his money to save this dying man. And the Samaritan doesn’t just stop to see if the guy’s OK. He bandages up his wounds. No first aid kits there – this guy will have torn his shirt to create bandages. He pours on oil and wine to disinfect the wounds. He puts the man on his donkey, and he walks in the dust by the side. He doesn’t just bring him to the inn, but rather he cares for him through the night. And the next day he pays a substantial amount up front to the inn keeper, and offers the inn keeper the promise of a blank cheque to care for the man. This is crazy love. It’s not reasonable. It’s not a duty of care. It’s crazy love.

It’s crazy to stop on a dangerous road to care for a half-dead man. It’s crazy to tear up your own clothes to bandage his wounds. It’s crazy to stay up all night to care for the man. And it’s certainly crazy to essentially write a blank cheque to an inn keeper you don’t know to get him to care for the man. The Samaritan shows crazy love.

Within a couple of years, the one who told this story would do something similar. An unlikely saviour, born into poverty, humbles himself and gives of himself to save others. Not with oil or wine or silver would this man save, but through his death upon the cross to take the punishment that we deserve. A man who should by rights be our enemy, instead became our friend who saves. And we, as broken, dead men, with nothing to offer, are saved and nursed back to health.

Back in 2011, as part of her Christmas speech, Her Majesty the Queen said this: “God sent into the world a unique person - neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.”

Brothers and sisters, whether you know all too well that you are broken and beaten and lying by the side of the road, or whether you’re more like the expert in the law who is self-confident and sorted, unless you accept the help from Jesus, you can have no confidence before God. You need to grasp that God’s standards are far too high for you to meet, but he has shown you crazy love anyway.

Pass three: So show crazy love

He does call us to show crazy love. Not as a way of justifying ourselves. Not as a way of making sure we’re good enough for heaven, but as a response to the crazy love that we have been shown.

I think of my friends Ed and Katie. Just before Rebecca and I got married and moved to London we were both living in Sheffield. And it was about this time of year, and the weather took a real turn for the worst. It was well below freezing for night after night, and there was a fair amount of snow on the ground. And Ed and Katie met two homeless guys, called Joe and James. Joe was in his 40s, and James was in his early twenties. They’d met on the streets and become friends. And so Ed and Katie invited them to come and stay.

They were careful – these guys both struggled with alcohol addictions so they made sure that there wasn’t any alcohol around, and they got either me, or Ed’s brother to come and stay too, but they welcomed these guys into their homes. Each evening we’d have a late dinner, read a short bit of a gospel together, and then head to bed.

It’s not reasonable love. It’s crazy love.

What about you? If you’re a Christian here today, to whom can you show crazy love? Who is that person at work who just really gets your goat – who really winds you up – who for some reason doesn’t like you? What will it mean to show them crazy love? Not because by doing so you will justify yourself, but because that it was  Jesus has done for you.

I don’t tell you these stories for you to think, “This is what I must do, and I feel guilty about not doing it.”

You’ve been shown crazy love. Pass it on.

Not to justify yourself, but because you’ve been shown crazy love.