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Love for Neighbors
Fall Quarter: Love for One Another
Unit 2: Inclusive Love
Sunday school lesson for the week of October 18, 2020
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Lesson Scripture: Lev. 19:18, 34; Luke 10:25-37
Key Verses: “Which of these three do you believe was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10: 36-37
Our lesson is comprised of three contrasts that are all important to comparing Judaism with Jesus’ teaching. The first contrast involves the interpretation of the Shema. The Shema is the most important law in Judaism. It is repeated daily by religious authorities. Jesus called the Shema the “law of laws.” The contrast will be narrowed into a debate asking, “Who is my neighbor?”
Akin to the contrasts involving the Shema involves the question, “How do we receive eternal life?” Do we receive eternal life through our good deeds, especially keeping the Shema, or does it require our belief in God’s Mosaic law? In the N.T., in books like James, we are asked if we are saved by our faith and trust in God or through our righteous actions in keeping the Law.
One of the major contrasts is very important, for it involves why some suffer and others do not. The Jewish leaders taught that if a person was obedient to the Law, they could expect a life of health, wealth and prosperity, with a few exceptions. For Jesus and his followers, it was believed our suffering was directly related to our personal righteousness. Have we been obedient in keeping the Mosaic Law, or failed? If we have been disobedient, we could expect suffering. Therefore, the pain and suffering in my life are directly related to my spiritual goodness or failure.
You will encounter many experiences in the N.T. in which even the disciples treated the suffering as sinners. People like Bartimaeus, the woman who crawled through the crowd to touch his garment, and tax collector Zacchaeus were perceived by the disciples as sinners who struggle because of their lack of righteous less. Thus, they were often surprised when Jesus accepted those who suffered as equals and loved by God. Furthermore, the disciples were not healthy, wealthy or prosperous yet often saw themselves as above others Jesus touched.
Many of the religious leaders lived in the area around Jerusalem for it was the seat of learning, education, and home of the powerful. Those who lived north in Galilee were perceived as lower-class workers, like Jesus’s father Joseph. Thus, many looked down upon him and his ministry immediately simply because he was from Galilee. Remember the question, “Can anything good come out of Galilee?”
The religious leaders especially had a disdain for Jesus, for he spoke as an educated man but was a Galilean.
The literary tool used in Luke to set up these contrasts is the teaching method Jesus used probably most often: he used the parable. A parable was a simple daily action or behavior with which most Jews were acquainted, and Jesus used them to impart truth related directly to the Kingdom of God. For example, the farmer threw seed on three types of soil; Jesus’ listeners would have understood this story and its spiritual message. The parable used in this text uses an important truth the Jews well knew, the Shema. But the Kingdom message was related, not to the farmer and seed, but to receptivity of the heart for the truth of God. This parable in Luke involves the Shema, the law well known to the Jews and understood as all important. However, the spiritual truth with which Jesus was most concerned was the section of the Shema regarding “the neighbor.” The parable was given to allow Jesus’ followers to ask the great question, “Who is the neighbor in the Shema?” Is it only Jews, or those who have a relationship to the Jew but to a lesser degree, who are treated as neighbors? In other words, these are those who are to be loved as one loves their own life. Remember, Rome governed the geographical area the Jews considered a gift from God. As a part of the Roman Empire other nationalities and those from different ethical backgrounds occupied Israel. Thus, the concept of the neighbor had expanded. Jesus’ teaching involved the inclusion of all as our neighbor. His understanding had always been totally inclusive. Therefore, the parable raises a new question, as to “Who is our neighbor?” and has become a theological question and calls for a new understanding of the Shema.
A parable can involve a real historical event that is used to convey an all-important truth. In our parable, a religious leader stands and asks Jesus a question. Jesus is standing, which is the position occupied by rabbis. This scholar standing to address Jesus involves some degree of respect. Such respect was rarely given to Jesus by religious authorities. The scholar’s question reveals that he was struggling with the issue of faith versus works. Yet, it seems most probable that he believed it was our good works that earned us eternal life. Notice the emphasis on “what a man does that the scholar believes is the means of achieving eternal life.
Jesus’ major method for answering a question used as an attempt to trap him with a complex question about the Jewish Law was to respond by asking a question of his own. It left the one interrogating him to do the thinking as he sought to answer Jesus’ question. After the religious question asked by the scholar was used to interrogate Jesus, Jesus asked his own question, “What is written in the law?” Asking a question as a response to a question asked to entrap Jesus was a common manner of responding to the question by Jesus. Jesus knew the religious leader already possessed the answer to the question he was going to ask. However, Jesus was looking for a different response from a totally different perspective. Thus, Jesus asked, “How do you read it?” Jesus, again, knew the scholar knew the meaning of the law. However, Jesus was now asking, “How do you interpret what you read?” It is one thing to understand truth with the mind, but another to understand its spiritual meaning in the heart. Jesus wanted to know how the scholar interpreted the most important moral law in Judaism quoting the full Shema from Deut. 6:5
Every Jew present would recite the Shema every day as a part of his or her disciplined spiritual life. It is the additional line the religious authority speaks that gives the Shema its spiritual heart: He added, “And thy neighbor as thyself.”
This type of love calls for sacrifice, respect, generosity and an awareness of just how deeply God loves each of us from every background possible.
Jesus placed the highest value on the life of another. Our life is found in lovingly giving it away. Our most meaningful life and most Christ-life existence is sincere belief that each of us have equal love before God. This is the life we will find Jesus proclaiming. It awakens the soul and awakens the heart to discover the sacred value of another.
This passage is actually where the parable begins. Again, the story of the religious scholar most likely was a real event. But the story Jesus tells from this narrative is a parable.
The parable itself is not that difficult to understand. The parable’s truth about human compassion, Christ-like love, and love in action are equally understandable. Basically, the parable is concerned with conveying that those who should love most, give the most, and see the true value of every soul, especially the wounded and hurting, should be the first to minister to the wounded man robbed and beaten on his way to Jericho.
What two men would you expect as those who respond first and most passionately? The priest and Levite are both called to serve God in the sacred temple. They regularly sacrifice animals and receive offerings for God’s sacred temple. Yet, the sacred temple lying beside the road in flesh and blood is ignored. There is no sacrifice to care for him as one of the sacred people of God. The near eastern law of hospitality within the Mosaic Law required treating another with hospitality. The Jew was to feed, provide shelter and bind the wounds of the injured. The priest and Levite ignored the sacred law of hospitality and left the injured Jewish man to fend for himself. Those who engaged in ministries involving sacrifices and expressions of God’s love were willing to leave a wounded brother on the roadside to most likely die. After all, the priest and Levite represented the high callings of ministry in Judaism. If they ignored a brother, was any Jew going to stop and care? And how could he expect a person who wasn’t Jewish, or of mixed blood, to stop and care?
When the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the mighty empire of Assyria, many Israelites remained in Assyria. Over the years, intermarriages occurred. The intermarriages were devalued and treated as lacking the equal value possessed by non-intermarriages which enjoyed greater privilege. As a matter of fact, the Jews despised the Samaritans as those who weakened the special relationship the Jewish people enjoyed with God. A Jew would feel rather helpless if his only help approaching was a Samaritan. A priest and Levite were Jews who served God in the temple through sacred rituals and holy days. The Samaritan would be the last person an injured Jew might want to see headed his way for help and hope. The Jews despised the Samaritans as the children of mixed-marriages or as those involved in a mixed marriage.
It is God’s love that transcends a person’s ethnicity and background and loves all equally within the Shema. This love manifests and reveals the kingdom of God. The love revealed in God’s Shema possessed its own perception of God’s love. It saw everyone, loved everyone, believed in everyone and saw the sacred worth in every soul. Every Jew was to repeat the Shema every day, for it captured the spiritual heart and truth of God’s kingdom. Every gate of the city in Jerusalem contained a canister with the sacred scroll of the Shema rolled within. It reminded the Jewish people that their going out and coming in were to be governed by the Shema. Since this was a parable in Luke 10 we have no idea why the priest and Levite didn’t stop or why the Samaritan did. That information isn’t of major importance in the parable. The important issue is that those who were to live in the Shema and treat one another with the love that made the Shema the powerful spiritual reality God intended it to be chose not to. The other facet was the listeners’ awareness that the one most expected to ignore and care least was the instrument of God’s caring grace.
The Samaritan not only cared immediately for the wounded man, he made provision for the man’s care for the days ahead. He left enough money with the innkeeper for two months of the man’s care.
The parable began with the religious scholar interrogating Jesus to define “neighbor” in the Shema. In Jesus’ understanding of the Shema the definition of neighbor possessed no bounds, limitations, and regulations. The Shema had no legalistic dynamic within its definition. It was a spirituality defined and empowered by the love and grace of God. This one law embodied all others. If we could obey the Shema as an act of true love for God and another person we would be keeping all laws. The person who loves God with all their heart will not steal from another, covert another’s possessions, take their life, or commit adultery. Try to imagine one moral law that can be broken if the Shema is obeyed.
Almighty God, our eyes, ears or imaginations cannot comprehend the depth and wonder of your love. Reveal to us in the Gospel of Jesus the indescribable love possible when we follow him as Lord. Empower us to become the surprising expression of God’s love to one in great need. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.