I will get to the Gospel reading in a moment. But first, a look back to last week’s Gospel. We heard Jesus commission and send 70 followers to prepare the way for him in towns he intended to visit. They were sent in pairs. They traveled light. They were to stay with one family in every town. Their task was to heal the sick. Their message was “The Kingdom of God has come near to you.” The seventy returned reporting that even demons departed town when they showed up. They were surprised. Jesus was not. He knew that their care for people in those towns would be life changing.
Now back to today’s Gospel reading from Luke and the parable of the good neighbour:
“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Rabbi’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do your read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall 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 your neighbour as yourself.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
“But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’
Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him and when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. He went to him and bandaged his wounds having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him, and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of the three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ He said, ‘ the one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘go and do likewise”
Good neighbours are everywhere. They are right here in this sanctuary. They are working overtime in hospitals caring for neighbours. Good neighbours are looking after the children of neighbours who are single mothers in need of a break. They are giving a morning greeting to homeless neighbours and a $10 bill for breakfast. They are supporting new neighbours who are refugees. Good neighbours are serving breakfast to neighbours at Our Place. They are being present with addicted neighbours. Good neighbours see neighbours wherever they go. They understand the message of the prophet Micah: And what does the Lord your God require of you O mortal but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God. Good neighbours respond to the needs of neighbours. Good neighbours love their neighbours.
Good neighbours are well acquainted with grief, loss and suffering. They have experienced it in their own lives. They have needed good neighbours. Good neighbours don’t turn away from suffering. They help as they are able. They look for the helpers when a situation is more than they can handle. A good neighbour knows an abundance of grace is always available. They understand that suffering neighbours need love and compassion. A good neighbour is a compassionate human being who comes in many colours, many sexual orientations, from many cultures. Good neighbours practice the radical love of Jesus.
The apostle Paul describes this radical love in a letter to the church at Corinth. He wrote: “Love is patient and kind. Love is not envious or boastful. It is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way. It does not rejoice in wrong doing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends”
The practice of this radical love is not easy. Fear often gets in the way of our practice. It can sometimes be inconvenient to help a neighbour. We know that it is a good idea to love our neighbour. But our neighbour’s problems, their suffering, their appearance, lifestyle, opinions and behaviour can be off putting. I suspect the priest and the Levite were afraid to help the wounded stranger. Jesus does not judge them for crossing the road. I can feel that fear sometimes when I see a suffering stranger. The stranger. I’ll easily help someone I know well who is suffering. But the stranger? An inner voice says be careful. But, there are no strangers. All people are my neighbours. Our neighbours need and deserve Jesus’s radical love.
The practice of this radical love is what Jesus was encouraging in the 12 disciples. It is what Jesus was encouraging in the 70 who offered healing and hope. This radical love is what Jesus is encouraging in us, day by day, week by week. Every day Jesus sends us out as good neighbours into a conflicted, suffering world of neighbours. He sends us with a readiness to be merciful, to be compassionate.
In the Gospel reading for today, each character has a choice. And choices have consequences. Jesus does not judge the choices made by the characters in this parable. He does not judge the lawyer for asking questions to which he already knows the answer. The conversation between Jesus and a lawyer becomes a lesson in life, love and compassion. Jesus ends the conversation by saying, if this is what you believe, than go and do it with and for your neighbours.
In this time and place in history we are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our soul and all our strength and all our mind, and our neighbour as ourselves. To do this, to practice this radical love is life. Having experienced that radical love, that mercy, we go, sent to do likewise for all neighbours. May it be so in all our relations. Amen.