Grace as Undiscriminating Love, Luke 10:25-37

Friends, here is part three of my short series on Grace. It is taken from Luke 10:25-37 and the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan.’ I hope it blesses you. 

Luke’s Gospel
Luke 10:25-37
Grace as Undiscriminating Love

Introduction

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26″What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27He 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 neighbor as yourself.'” 28″You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30In 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. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The 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.’ 36″Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

We have been talking on Sunday mornings about grace. If I reckon correctly, this will be the fifth sermon that I have preached on grace in the last two months having interrupted my previous series on Suffering to preach two rather impromptu sermons on grace and how grace works itself out in the lives of those who call themselves and who are called to be the church in and to the world.

I saw a certain author’s work yesterday. He was attempting to interpret this parable of the good Samaritan for his readers. He said the parable teaches at least four main lessons. One of his points, the first one in fact, is this: The parable teaches the impossibility of earning one’s salvation. The standard, which is perfect love, is too high. Well, on the contrary, the parable teaches no such thing. Matthew quite specifically tells us that Jesus’ parable was designed to teach the man who his neighbor was.

So in fact this parable has nothing to do whatsoever with a doctrine of salvation. It has nothing to do, for that matter, with another of the author’s suggestions: that the parable attacks racial prejudice. It wasn’t merely racial prejudice that prevented one man from helping another. In fact it was much deeper than that and I’ll get to that near the end of the message. To be sure, this story really has nothing to with even answering the Lawyer’s question: “Who is my neighbor?” as a careful reading of the verses demonstrates.

Jesus doesn’t tell the man who his neighbor is. Jesus asks the Lawyer, at the end of the parable, what sort of a neighbor he is. Listen: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

The Lawyer replies, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus responds, “Go and do likewise.” So the point is clearly not who is my neighbor, but rather to whom am I a neighbor. Darrell Bock rightly comments, “By reversing the perspective Jesus changes both the question and the answer. He makes the call no longer one of assessing other people, but of being a certain kind of person in one’s own activity.” The parable is one that forces us to probe our own discriminating proclivities. In this context: Everyone is our neighbor. There is no discrimination to be shown, no favoritism, no partiality. This parable points the finger right back at us and asks: Who is not your neighbor?

____________________

I think one of the reasons why we are so afraid to be gracious to other people is because we are typically, absolutely, terrified of getting involved in the messiness of others’ lives. I know from my own life that being involved with difficult people, messed up people, people who can’t not be involved in controversy is draining. I remember going on a field trip when I was still in college. We went around for Church Growth class visiting churches that were successful and had otherwise successful preachers.

I specifically remember one of the successful ones telling our class that he purposely avoided getting involved with what he called ‘high maintenance’ people. That is, people who took up too much of his time, people who never contributed anything particularly useful to the congregation life. They are the ones who always need, always want, always take. I remember very specifically that conversation: ‘I don’t do it,’ he said. ‘I involve myself with people who will make my life easier, better, or more successful.’ Some of that is paraphrase, but it is true to the point.

How can I be gracious to those whose lives I am unwilling to participate in? How can I love the ones I would rather observe than touch? Here’s what I read:

“One of the most insidious maladies of our time is: the tendency in most of us to observe rather than act, avoid rather than participate, not do rather than do; the tendency to give in to the sly, negative cautionary voices that constantly counsel us to be careful, to be controlled, to be wary and prudent and hesitant and guarded in our approach of this complicated thing called living.”—Arthur Gordon, A Touch of Wonder as quoted by Mike Yaconelli in Messy Spirituality.

Again the point becomes this: How can I be gracious to people if I am not involved in the messiness of their lives? How can I love the unlovely if I am not willing to risk being hated? How can I bring hope to the hopeless if I am not willing to risk being rejected? How can I carry the Gospel to those who haven’t heard if I am not willing to risk the very culture I inhabit being a barrier to communication? How can I have a conversation with those to whom no one speaks unless I open my mouth and initiate a conversation they may have no interest in? How can I be an agent of healing and reconciliation in the lives of broken and divorced people unless I am willing to touch their wounds, bind up their diseases, carry their infirmities?

Amazing thing about Jesus is that He spent a lot of time touching and being touched by people. People weren’t afraid to touch him; he wasn’t afraid to touch them. He wasn’t embarrassed by their diseases, their poverty, their shame, their guilty, or their age. He embraced and loved.

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I’d like to share a rather lengthy portion of a book by Mark Buchanan. The book is called Your God is Too Safe. Listen carefully as Buchanan analyzes the problem and provides succinct solutions to it.

In order to escape borderland, it is not enough that you grasp a holy must, maintain faith, or forsake your pride. Living in the holy wild also requires a complete change of ethics…

A number of years ago, a wise man pointed out to me the root difference between the ethic of Jesus and the ethic of the Pharisees. Usually we think of the difference in these terms: the Pharisees had an ethic of externals, of ritual and rigmarole, and Jesus had an ethic of the heart, of the heart’s inner workings. The Pharisees were concerned about not committing adultery, while Jesus was concerned about lust, the root of adultery. He was concerned with adulterousness.

That’s true as far as it goes. Only it doesn’t go very far. The deeper difference between Jesus’ ethic and that of the Pharisees was this: The Pharisees had an ethic of avoidance, and Jesus had an ethic of involvement. The Pharisee’s question was not ‘How can I glorify God?’ It was ‘How can I avoid bringing disgrace to God?’ This degenerated into a concern not with God, but with self—with image, reputation, procedure. They didn’t ask, ‘How can I make others clean?’ They asked, ‘How can I keep myself from getting dirty?’ They did not seek to rescue sinners, only to avoid sinning.

Jesus, in sharp contrast, got involved. He sought always and in all ways to help, to heal, to save, to restore. Rather than running from evil, He ran towards the good. And evil, in fear, fled. Look at Legion, the man under assault by a demon mob. Everyone else fears Legion, tries to banish him to the tombs. But when Jesus shows up, it’s Legion who is afraid, begging Jesus not to torture him. Jesus has come to seek and save that which is lost, not to destroy. He heals Legion and restores him to community. Jesus is not the least afraid of Legion’s evil. Rather, the evil in Legion fears the holy power in Jesus and is subdued by it. Darkness always flees light.

Mark it well: evil isn’t safe in the presence of the God who is not safe. Nor—and this is the point—is evil safe in the presence of those who forsake the god who is too safe and follow the Christ. Legions all over the world live both in terror and in desperate yearning for those who dare to leave borderland and live in the holy wild. They’re the ones who set the captives free.

Jesus got close enough to unholy people for the spark of holiness in Him to jump. He took the tax collectors, the rough fishermen, the harlots, the demon possessed, and gave back to them dignity and life. He gave back to Legion his real name. The Pharisees avoided these people lest they were infected with their sin and were overwhelmed by their evil.

The problem is that we have often preferred the ethic of the Pharisee to the ethic of Christ. We have become self-obsessed in our doctrine of sin, as though sin were merely a personal flaw like acne, plantar’s warts, or crooked teeth. As those sin is merely about personal victory or defeat. We seldom see sin as a brokenness that’s bone deep and creationwide…

* * *

Jesus uses the marketplace to touch the sick with healing. There He is, Lord of the holy wild, iconoclast of the safe god, striding hugely, robes flying about Him, jostling with the crowds, spreading His hands wide, pressing those hands against flesh scalding with fever or icy with approaching death, letting clutching, disease-soaked hands grab hold of Him. That’s Jesus in the marketplace.

Then there are the Pharisees, lords of borderland, charter members of the safe god society. If they go into the marketplace at all, they take great and grave precautions. They avoid even the residue, even the shadow, of the sick people’s presence. There they are, prim mannered, mincing their steps, holding themselves tight, picking up items between the pinched ends of two fingers, rushing home to scrub up.

Jesus is about healing the sick. The Pharisees are about avoiding them and making sure, above all, that they themselves don’t get sick. (108-114)

_____________________

Neighbors take risks. We need to change our thinking about who we are neighbors to.

Craig Blomberg makes a poignant statement, “Grace comes in surprising ways and from sources people seldom suspect.” But should it? Isn’t Jesus’ point here that grace should not, in fact, be so surprising? Shouldn’t our neighborly proclivities be so abundantly clear that it is surprising when we don’t do something for the man laying in a ditch?

Should grace be so strange in this world? And if it is, why? How does grace play in ten thousand places? How does grace play itself out in real life when hate lives right next door, or walks hand in hand with love? How is grace stronger in the lives of the weak, in the lives of messy people, the lives of the decrepit and broken?

Is it possible to really love God if we do not love our neighbor? And is it really possible to limit who our neighbor is? Doesn’t Jesus dispel the myth that we have the right to discriminate who does and does not receive the efficacious side of our love and mercy and grace? So Leon Morris, “Our attitude to God determines the rest. If we really love him we love our neighbor too.”

“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

____________________

The measure of the depth of our love for God is taken by the depth of our love for neighbors. Perhaps it is thus time for us to love our neighbors. Perhaps it is time that our neighbors knew that we loved them by our actions.

Perhaps it is time for God to know that we love Him by our actions towards our neighbors.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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