Grace and peace to you from our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Who among you know someone with no friends or family? There are not many people like that in this world, right? Almost everyone has friends or relatives. By nature we are social beings. We are looking for others to share our interests, experiences and goals. It's good to work, study or simply live with compatible people, so we try to find something in common with everyone. Generally, we find our first friends in our families. Sometimes there are conflicts within the family, but it is usually easier to live in harmony with the family because we have the same story, same values, etc.. By nature, we care for our friends and family, the people who are most like us.
This is good, but when the Lord says "love your neighbor as yourself," is He talking about this kind of thing? No, He is speaking in a much broader sense.
Here's another question: Who among you knows someone without enemies? Almost everyone has enemies too. By human nature, we avoid the company of people with whom we have conflicts or who are not very friendly to us, at least. If they have hurt us, we seek to harm them.
However, in other verses, our Lord Jesus Christ said, "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. .. "(Matthew 5.44). Do you love our enemies? What does this mean? In our Gospel for today, the Lord has given us an illustration.
As you should know, the road at the bottom of the hill is very dangerous after sundown. There are many thieves down there. About a week ago, they robbed a cab driver. But early in the morning, many people walk on that road for exercise, or to travel to work or school. What would you do if you found your best friend or brother on that road, robbed and beaten? You would help, right? What would you do if the victim was a stranger, a foreigner? Would you look after him? Or if he was an enemy, a person with whom you have problems or conflicts?
In our text, a Jew was waylaid by robbers who left him on the road. Religious men in the eyes of the Jews, the priest and the Levite, found him, but without the possibility of winning the admiration of the people, did not want to help. He was rescued by a Samaritan, not just a foreigner, but one of an ethnic/religious group with a long history of hatred and war with the Jews.
The point is the Samaritan had no expectation of reward for helping the Jew. He could not win the respect of the crowd because of his identity as a Samaritan. Perhaps the Jew would not even have has a good word for the Samaritan. He acted only out of compassion for another, unfortunate human being.
The question to Jesus was, Who is my neighbor? What was meant was, how wide is the circle of compassion that God expect of me? The answer was, all who are in are within that circle. If you can not treat all with mercy, as God has treated you, you can not win the favor of God.
So every Sunday we confess "We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves." Why not? Because we cannot fulfill the holy will of God by our own strength. We confess we have not loved God with all our heart. Because of our sinful human nature, we are born enemies and rebels against God.
But in His great love and mercy when we were His enemies and lost in our sins, God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die for us on the cross and pay the price for our sins. God the Father Almighty and the Lord Jesus Christ sent the Holy Spirit to ignite the love of God and our neighbors in our hearts through the Word and the sacraments. We are still sinners, but we are the saints of God. In Jesus Christ we always have the opportunity to repent of our lack of love and mercy and change our path.
Of course, in this cruel world, there are people want to harm us and it is best to be careful of them. There are others who willfully reject our friendship. For our part, however, we will not seek to condemn, punish or reject anyone, but look for opportunities to show the same mercy that God has shown us.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding will keep you in heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.
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