Seventh Sunday After Pentecost,
 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"  He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?"  And 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 neighbor as yourself."  And he said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live."
 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"  Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, 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, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.'  Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?"  He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise." Luke 10:25-37 (ESV)
Neighbor is a funny word in the English language. Some how it has come to mean the guy next door. One used to say my next door neighbor. Now we just say neighbor. We hardly mean anyone who lives any further a distance than 3 doors from us. Once we are out of the neighborhood, well then we have no neighbors there. We move and we start talking about people who used to be our neighbors. We no longer preface this with “next door” that would be too long. And of course it is precisely your neighbors that can be the hardest strangers to get along with in life. The closer people are to you the more trouble it seems you will have with them. Who hasn’t had a family squabble? But your neighbors they aren’t family and probably don’t know you very well. Yet they live right next door, and don’t keep their grass mowed. They play loud music, rev their engines late into the night throwing beer cans on the lawn and who knows what else. They let their dogs out to bark at the moon. Or perhaps they just make annoyingly smug comments while engaging in small talk, and maybe not even realizing it. And love your neighbor as yourself becomes a hard enough task that we all feel a bit guilty and would seek to justify ourselves by excluding even them from the word Jesus. Well Jesus didn’t mean our next door neighbor, so he couldn’t mean them. That is our way around this commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.
So Jesus tells this story, this parable to illustrate a couple things. Justifying ourselves is impossible, and our neighbor is everyone for whom Jesus Christ died, that is everyone in the world, because no one is able to justify themselves.
The lawyer wanted to justify himself. Funny first he is testing Jesus and then he is being tested. After interpreting the law for Jesus, he convicts himself. Notice that Jesus doesn’t accuse him of not loving his neighbor as himself. Jesus tells the man if you do this you will live, meaning inherit eternal life. Well that question is a little awkward anyway. What must I do to inherit? Be born of the right family, wait for you dad to kick the bucket and keep him from squandering your inheritance on his bucket list right? But this man asks what must I do. He asks as we say a “law question.” He receives a “law answer.” That is the way it works. This man could have asked Jesus a million questions. He chooses to challenge Jesus on the law, because that is what he knows. Gospel is foreign to us. We hear it and we have a hard time believing it. It makes no sense to us that Jesus could have paid for all our sins. We constantly go back looking for loopholes in the law to justify ourselves and our actions. What does neighbor mean? Rather than admitting guilt outright, he is going to seek to find a way out. He knows he has not loved everyone in his life as himself. But perhaps He can find a way to make this work with a narrow enough definition of neighbor.
That is when Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan. The idea of a Samaritan as being a neighbor! Well we all know that Samaritans were despised. Hence the shock value of this story. But it would not have worked had the Samaritan been the dead man on the side of the road. No, the Samaritan is the neighbor to the Jew. The moral in this story is don’t worry about who your neighbor is, be a neighbor. Be a neighbor to everyone regardless of race, sex or creed, or even nationality. Help them all out when they are in need be a neighbor to them. Jesus exemplified that in his life. He seemed to have a total disregard for anyone’s social class, or background. Everyone he saw, man, woman, child leper, Samaritan, or Pharisee he saw as someone for whom he had to die. Perhaps it was those like this lawyer though who got the harsh treatment. They had to be divested of their pride, the foolish and unwarranted pride that they so badly wanted to maintain. In the presence of the man who could forgive sins, they would rather justify themselves. Jesus would not let that stand. There is no justification of self before Jesus. There is no, I did my best. There is no if you walked in my shoes. There is no justification of one’s self in the presence of Jesus. There is only forgiveness or damnation. Jesus would forgive. Jesus comes to forgive. Jesus shed his blood to forgive you. Infact, regardless of your best efforts Jesus has forgiven you. It is a done fact. You are forgiven. But he will let you hold to your death sentence if you want to. He will let you try to justify yourself according to the law. But you will find it is your damnation. Only the cross where Christ died for the whole world is any hope offered for justification. We are justified not by what we do. Not by being a neighbor, but despite our best efforts at being a neighbor we are justified by what Christ has done for us. We are justified by his cross, Christ crucified. We have life, we inherit life because he, after dying for our sins, dying for your sins, rose from the dead to give us the inheritance of eternal life that belongs to us for having become part of his family.
And it is there at the cross that we find who our neighbor is. Our neighbor is all for whom Christ died and shed his blood. Our neighbor is the guy next door who doesn’t mow his grass, and leaves beer cans on the front lawn. Our neighbor is the heroin addict down the street shooting up behind JJ’s lounge. Our neighbor is the Mexican here illegally sojourning among us looking for a job with which to feed his family. Our neighbor is the ex-convict who can’t get a job and lives off the food from the food bank. Our neighbor is that pregnant girl who doesn’t know where to turn now that her boyfriend has run off, and that child within her so susceptible to abortion. Our neighbors are the refugees in war torn Sudan. The people of Afghanistan, and the soldiers there too. They are our neighbors by virtue of the cross, regardless of whether they believe it. Jesus died for them just as he died for you. He forgives them just as he forgives you. He justifies them as he justifies you, because there is no Justification of one’s self before Jesus only forgiveness or damnation. Jesus forgives.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.