Who must we love?

Homily 436 – 23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
November 15, 2020
Epistle: (220) Ephesians 2:4-10
Gospel: (53) Luke 10:25-37

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

I’ve heard this story so many times. Yet, every time I hear it, it reinforces something in me – something that I often forget.

The man, an expert in the Torah, the Law of the Lord, asks a question – trying to test Jesus. Who is my neighbor?

An interesting question, because it was an add-on to the second great commandment of the Torah – to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.

In essence, when the religious lawyer asks “Who is my neighbor?” the real question he asks is much more loaded – Who must I love? I’m commanded to love my neighbor – who is my neighbor? Who must I love?

Now, I’m sure that Jesus could have said, well, the neighbor is the one around you – the people who live nearby, the people who are in your community or your tribe or family.

But that wasn’t what Christ said.

He refused to define who was a neighbor. He refused to say “Here is how you segregate the world into those you are obligated to love, and those you are not obligated to love.”

We are given to think of “neighbor” as a description of relationship – it seems that may be the way the religious lawyer understood it. A neighbor is a type of relationship, and so there must be parameters around it.

But no.

Jesus redefines the word. Through the story, Christ removes the idea that “neighbor” is a pre-determined or pre-established relationship.

What is implied is that we, who follow Christ, are in a relationship with every single human being on the planet. We are neighbors with everyone.

By specifying the Samaritan man as the caregiver, Jesus sets aside the idea of tribe or community being what forms, or excludes, community. All of a sudden, there is no longer “us” and “them”. There is no stranger anymore.

In the Torah, the Old Testament Law of Moses, one of the commandments was to love the stranger, to offer the stranger hospitality and shelter. Leviticus 19 is specific:

When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you must not oppress him. You must treat the foreigner living among you as native-born and love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.

Or Exodus 22:

You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless

In fact, obedience to the Law, the Torah – from the 10 commandments down to the detail in the 613 Levitical Laws of Judaism – was completely optional for the stranger dwelling in Israel.

Only four laws applied: abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. These were specifically mentioned as laws that applied to the house of Israel, but importantly, of the strangers which sojourn among you as well. (Lev. 17, 18) The same laws asked of the Gentiles in the book of Acts.

As such, when the entire swath of humanity is our neighbor, and we are charged to love them, by extension we are commanded – not suggested – commanded to love everyone. Without exception, without excuse.

Further, Christ goes on to tell us in the story exactly how this love manifests itself.

We take the specifics – encountering someone we don’t know, likely not from our tribe or community, and certainly not our family, who is in need.

The first decision we have – do we love? Do we act? Love is a verb. It demands action, not just emotion. And Christ resoundingly tells us “yes, love. Yes, act.”

Then, the remainder is pretty straightforward. See the need. Assess the need. Provide the need, as we are able to provide.

In the Old Testament, you were not required to place your life in jeopardy to save another. Yet, Christ did exactly that. Let that sink in for a moment. Not saying we need to – but it will be blessed in the Kingdom of God if we do risk our lives to save others.

We can apply this to our lives today certainly. With the world getting better and faster communication, though, we cannot always help. In fact, the knowledge of the things we can’t do anything about might cloud our vision to see the things we can address.

What we need to do is to see the needs around us. And, as we are able, address those needs.

The Samaritan man didn’t help the starving children of the famine. He didn’t help those oppressed by political authority – he was likely oppressed himself. What he helped was the need he encountered.

May God help us to open our eyes to see the needs of those we encounter. That we may without judgment and without fail, assist with whatever resources we have.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!