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Date: Mar 15, 2007 Previous | Next
TURNING LIFE UPSIDE DOWN #9
How far away does a person have to live before they’re no longer your neighbor? That seemed to be the question that was on one man’s mind when he came to Jesus. “Who is my neighbor?” he asked.
Would you consider someone who lived 9,000 miles away your neighbor?
Ryan Hreljac (Hurl-Jack) did. And because he did, he’s become a celebrity all around the world—but more importantly, he has helped make life better for thousands of people.
The story began at school one day in January of 1998 when Ryan heard about the plight of children in Africa who didn’t have clean water.
All he could think about when he got home was those children who couldn’t just run to the kitchen sink and draw a nice clean glass of water to drink. But what could a six-year-old boy do to help children living thousands of miles away? That’s right, Ryan was only six years old!
He wasn’t sure, but he thought there must be something he could do. He’d heard that $70 was all that was needed to drill a well in Africa. Well, then, he’d have to find $70 and get it to the children in Africa somehow. “Mom, we need to send $70 to Africa so the children can have clean drinking water,” Ryan told his mother.
At first his mother and father just put him off, but Ryan persisted, and soon they realized he was dead serious about wanting to help the children in Africa. So they gave him extra chores to do around the house. While his brothers played outside, Ryan vacuumed the house, washed the windows, and did anything he could find to earn money. It took him several months, but finally, by the sweat of his brow, he had raised $75. He gave that to a charity that was working to provide wells for African children. But the story doesn’t end there.
Ryan soon learned that if the organization had $25,000, they could buy a portable drill that would provide wells in many villages. So seven-year-old Ryan went to work enlisting others in his campaign. He hand wrote letters to people and organizations, and when they responded, he sent thank you notes.
To date, according to the web site ryanswell.ca, Ryan has raised over $1 million that has gone to help provide clean drinking water for children in Africa.
Pretty good for a thirteen-year-old, wouldn’t you say?
I think I know how Ryan would answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” When his mother asked him what he wished for, he replied “ I wish for everyone in Africa to have clean water.”
It seems he’s adopted the whole continent as his neighbors! Even though they live thousands of miles from his home in Ontario, Canada.
Boy… When I read a story like that, it literally moves me to tears. This young man has no question about who his neighbor is.
But in the parable we’re looking at today in Luke 10, one of the students of biblical law isn’t so clear on this question. He wonders who his neighbor is.
He’s identified as a lawyer—that is, a student of the law. But there are different ways of studying the law—even the law of God. Some people study it to find out what God would have them do. This man seems to have been studying it looking for a loophole—or perhaps a secret passageway—to get him into heaven!
He came to Jesus and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
In response Jesus asked him, “ What is written in the law?”
Interestingly, the man didn’t quote the Ten Commandments, but paraphrased two Old Testament texts and 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 neighbor as yourself’ ” (Luke 10:27, NRSV).
Jesus agreed that this is what the law required. And that’s when the lawyer started looking for loopholes. “Who is my neighbor?” he asked.
It’s a valid question, isn’t it? Who really should we consider to be our neighbor? Who is it our duty to love and show concern for? In an age when we are exposed constantly to appeals and news reports from every corner of the world, how far does our “neighborhood” extend?
Jesus’ answer is found in the story He told about a Jewish man who found himself in a dangerous situation on a narrow, valley road.
The poor fellow’s worst fears soon materialized. Bandits attacked, robbed him, beat him up pretty bad, and even took his clothes. They didn’t figure he’d need them anymore; they reckoned he’d be vulture food before morning.
But just when all seems to be lost, help appears on the horizon—or does it? Yes! Surely that priest coming down the road will stop and help. After all, a priest is supposed to be God’s representative on earth. Surely he will have compassion.
But the priest just walks by on the other side.
Next down the trail is a Levite. He too is supposed to represent God's kindness and compassion in the world. But this man also moves into the passing lane and goes on his way.
What Jesus doesn’t say in the story, but what His hearers knew, is that the priest and Levite had a good excuse for not stopping. Notice I said excuse, not reason. According to biblical law, a priest or Levite was not to defile himself by touching a dead body. So, as they passed by on the other side, these men could justify themselves by saying, maybe the man’s already dead. Or maybe he’s going to die soon. I dare not defile myself!
They could use the law to justify bad behavior.
We can still do that today, can’t we? Hide behind the letter of the law to avoid doing the right thing. We can use the law to limit our options for helpfulness, if we choose to. But that may severely limit our neighbors’ opportunities for learning to know God as a loving Father/Neighbor.
It’s possible to substitute religiosity for genuine Christian behavior. Church attendance for attending to the needs of others. Most of us—truth be told—have played the role of the priest or Levite in this story at some time, either by our actions or inaction.
But now comes the surprise element in the parable. The next person to come down the trail is a Samaritan. And everyone knows that Jews and Samaritans don’t have anything to do with each other. In fact they are enemies.
But this is where the surprise takes effect. Because the Samaritan man does what the priest and Levite should have done—and even more. He goes the extra mile: picks the man up and puts him on his own donkey, transports him to the nearest inn, and gives the innkeeper money to nurse the man back to health.
After telling this story, Jesus looks the lawyer square in the face and asks him to answer his own question—but with a slight twist. The lawyer had asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus asked, “ ‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ ” (Luke 10:36, NRSV).
Which man was a neighbor? You know, it seems to me all three men were neighbors to the man in need—doesn’t it seem like that to you? I mean, all of them had the responsibility of being good neighbors to him.
But that’s not the answer the lawyer gave. Because there’s a dynamic behind this question that he sensed, and that influenced his answer.
“ ‘The one who showed him mercy’ ” he answered (Luke 10:37, NRSV).
Notice that he wouldn’t even say the word Samaritan. Nonetheless, he had to admit that the Samaritan was the one who had proved to be a neighbor. The answer to Jesus’ question is: “Even my enemy is by neighbor!”
The lawyer had asked the question, “Who is my neighbor?” as a way to narrow the field of people he was required to love. But as usual, Jesus managed to turn the tables and teach a lesson about the breadth of God’s love. And in the process He showed up the hypocrisy of those who wanted to abide only by the letter of the law.
Who then, is my neighbor?
I can’t draw a circle around myself and say I only have to be concerned about people within this circle
There’s a wonderful poem, so short that even I can memorize it, that goes like this:
He drew a circle that shut me out--
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
("Outwitted" by Edwin Markham)
That’s what Jesus did. The lawyer wanted to abide by the law—as the priest and Levite in the story did. But the law Jesus applied was the law of God’s love.
It’s the law He applies to us as well, and asks us to apply in our daily lives. Who is my neighbor? Who should I love? The question, really, is who shouldn’t I love? Who shouldn’t I care about? And the answer is, No one.
Jesus asks us to love everyone, even our enemies, and He will empower us to do it. We may not be able to help every wounded neighbor we find by the road today, but let’s do what we can to make the world a better, more loving place.
This parable challenges me, and Ryan Hreljac’s story challenges me. To do more—to reach out farther, to help those in need. How about you?