Friday, 18 December 2015

Daily Reading: Luke 10v25-37 'Really loving'

1. You’re walking through town when a dishevelled guy shouts “Big Issue!” What do you do?
a. Avoid eye contact and walk on as if you didn’t hear.
b. Smile sympathetically but don’t buy it as you don’t like it.
c. Walk over engage in conversation and buy a copy.

2. There’s a knock on your door, it is a man recently released from prison selling kitchenware. Do you?
a. Grab the kids and duck down behind the sofa.
b. Open the door and talk to them but politely decline as it’s cheaper to buy it in ASDA.
c. Talk to them and buy some things.

3. You nip into town to get some money, as you walk down an alley you hear running feet and see a young man lying on the floor with cuts and swelling around his face. What do you do?
a. Walk quickly out of the alley not wanting to get involved.
b. Phone the emergency services and leave, after all they could come back.
c. Phone the emergency services, put your coat under his head and sit talking to him while you wait for the ambulance to arrive. Explain what happened and go with him to the hospital.

Keep those answers in your head as we look at this passage.  The big question as we approach this passage is do I love God? And how is that love seen?

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem(9:51) knowing he will die there. He is preparing his disciples for life after the cross and ascension, teaching them what it means to be his followers. The tension between Jesus and the Jewish leaders has been growing and an ‘expert’ comes “to test” Jesus(25).  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he asks. Or ‘How can I be sure that I’ll be saved at the final resurrection?’

Jesus reply is surprising. He has just explained to his disciples that he reveals the Father to them(22), they know that he is God’s Messiah, they have just been telling everyone he is the king of God’s Kingdom. So you would expect him to answer along those lines wouldn’t you? What must I do to inherit eternal life? ‘Trust in me, here let me explain…’ Or even hand him over to Peter to explain.  But he doesn’t, what does he say? “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And then when this expert answers with the summary of the law(27) Jesus surprises us again as he praises his answer, “Do this and you will live.”

Is Jesus saying you can be good enough to earn your way into heaven? Is he saying you don’t need him? If this was the only story in the Bible and it stopped there you could conclude that. But it doesn’t, instead Jesus explodes the idea that he and we can ever love God like that, that we can ever reach that standard.

How do you know whether you will inherit eternal life? You look at the way you love God and at your relationship with him. The way to love God is with total devotion expressed in emotion, consciousness, drive and intelligence, and such love is seen in your loving your neighbour as yourself.

The lawyer asks a follow up question (29)“Who is my neighbour?”  Jesus, who do I have to love? What are the limits, give me a list so that I know what the bare minimum is? He is minimising love for both his neighbour and for God, but Jesus tells a story of surprising, lavish compassionate love without limits that highlights this man’s and our inability to earn salvation.

I wonder how you picture the scene(30). It’s not the equivalent of taking a stroll down Bawtry Road, but of walking through an alley in the knife crime hotspot of London. The Jericho Road ran from Jericho 17 miles to Jerusalem and climbed nearly 3500feet, it was rocky and surrounded by caves. It was known as ‘the bloody way’, and incidents like(30) were common. What does the man need as he lays half dead? He needs someone who loves God and shows it by loving his neighbour.

Over the horizon comes a figure that turns out to be a priest(31) surely he’ll help, but he passes by on the other side. Then another figure appears in the heat haze and as he gets closer it’s a Levite – surely he’ll help? But he too passes by on the other side. Both men limit their love, they ask ‘Who is my neighbour?’ and conclude not this man.

But before we condemn this man or the Levite and Priest we need to be careful we don’t condemn ourselves. There actions are logical aren’t they? They make the excuses we find ourselves making; to stop and help would be dangerous, the mob could still be around, and think of the potential consequences for me and my family. What about the cost to my time I’m busy?

I guess we might console ourselves that we pay our taxes and give to Worldvision or Tearfund, we are not indifferent to need it just that this time… We are more like the Levite and Priest than we find comfortable. The Levite could console himself that he cared for the poor, part of his responsibilities at the temple was giving alms to the poor, and the Priest well he served the sick and ill. They do their bit just not right now.

We also isolate ourselves from the needs around us. It’s easy to live in a isolated cosseted world and not see need.  Before we condemn these men we need to ask ourselves if we aren’t living our lives in light of our own answer that question ‘Who is my neighbour?’ Think back to the 3 scenarios, who is your neighbour?

Does my love for God shown in my love for my neighbour have limits?

The question as Jesus tells the story is(37); can you spot the neighbour?  We lose the impact of this story because we are so familiar with it. But it is like a BNP campaigner being helped by an asylum seeker, an injured British Soldier in Afghanistan being helped by a Taliban fighter, a Rabbi in Jerusalem being saved by a Palestinian.  The word ‘Samaritan’ was used as an insult by the Jews, they were seen as a mongrel race, outsiders not fit for the kingdom, and they worshipped God wrongly.  But the Samaritan sees the injured man and how does he respond(33)? He is filled with compassion for him, compassion that touches his heart and activates his hands, compassion that sees him lavish love on this injured man.

He goes to him, bandages his wounds, pours on oil to sooth them and wine to disinfect them. He puts him on his donkey, takes him to an inn where he cares for him overnight. He doesn’t help and run, there is nothing minimalist about his actions. The next morning he pays two days wages, enough for room and board for 24 days and as he leaves emphatically says that when he returns he not the injured man will pay any additional costs.

Jesus question is simple but devastating; “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man…?”  Who showed total love for God? Who followed God’s law? The lawyer almost chokes on his answer, he can’t even bring himself to say ‘Samaritan’ but instead says “The one who had mercy on him.”

Go and do likewise, says Jesus. Do you see the challenge for the lawyer? Don’t just know the law but act on it; don’t ask who your neighbour is but love God totally and live it by loving all. By meeting the needs of those around you where those needs are found.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus agrees with the mans answer of fulfilling the law, but in the parable he destroys the notion that the man is capable of doing so. His desire to put limits on who he has to love clearly shows he has not understood, that he cannot meet, God’s standard.

(22)Only in Jesus is the Father revealed, only by knowing Jesus can you know God because only he fulfils the law on our behalf, only he loves the Father like this, only he loves his neighbour like this. Only through the grace and mercy of God in Jesus can we have a relationship with God and having experienced such love we are to live lives marked by it. To love God with all our heart, soul, strength, mind evidenced in loving our neighbours as ourselves, just as our saviour did.

“Go and do likewise.” Is the phenomenally challenging call to discipleship.

Who are the needy? It’s obvious in the parable, but there isn’t someone laying on the road in front of me! We need to open our eyes, step out of our comfort zone. To learn to read the world around us as Jesus did his. To see the elderly struggling with loneliness and isolation or pay their fuel bills.

The single parent struggling with a lack of adult conversation, the constant parenting and pressure of doing everything. To listen to the welter of accents of refugees, asylum seekers and others who need to learn English and are so often shunned by others. To hear the cries of those who labour in child poverty or prostitution and have no advocate.

Will we pray this week ‘God, open my eyes to the needy you have put here for me to show my love for you to?’  We need to be thinking about how we as a church are going to engage in these areas, what needs we can meet and how?  How do you start? Look at your family – what needs are there? I think one issue is how we care for our elderly relatives.  Look at your church family – Loneliness, money worries, grief, are all around us. Will my love for God be seen in my compassion for others that moves my heart and activates my hands?  What about your street or neighbourhood? Are you aware of needs, those struggling with grief, marriages, children, divorce, disability.  What about your shopping trolley? Do the products we buy speak of love for God and our neighbours?

We need to repent of the limits we put on our love. We need to come again to the cross, because only the cross will change us. Guilt will see us apply some ointment to calm our troubled conscience – maybe by setting up a direct debit or something. But when we see God’s love for us, for those who were dead and deserved nothing, alienated from him, his enemies, in Christ’s death for us. Only grace will change us because when we see need we will see an opportunity to reveal the love of God, to be like Christ.

This doesn’t replace telling others the gospel but wins a hearing for it. It verifies the reality of the gospel.  “Go and do likewise.”

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