“How do you read it?”

Text: Luke 10:25-37

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

Our Gospel reading today, the story of the Good Samaritan, is pretty well known. There are not a lot of surprises here. A man is traveling down from Jerusalem to Jericho falls into the hands of robbers, is beaten half to death, and left for dead at the side of the road. A priest and a Levite (another kind of religious professional) pass by the man rather than helping him. Next a Samaritan comes along and he takes the time to stop and help. The moral of the story, or at least one of the morals of the story, is that we ought to love our neighbour as our self.

I bet you didn’t think as you heard this story of the Good Samaritan this morning that it is actually a story about how you read the Bible. Most people probably wouldn’t read this story this way, but that is really what it is about. The idea of loving your neighbour as yourself is really important too, but what Jesus is really doing here is teaching us how to read the Bible, how to engage with His Words as we read them or as we hear them preached to us. Jesus is teaching us to read the Bible with Him at the centre of everything that we read.

Let me explain. Before Jesus tells the story about the Good Samaritan a lawyer comes up to Jesus. This lawyer isn’t the kind of lawyer we have in our society. This kind of lawyer is an expert in God’s law, the Old Testament writings like the 10 Commandments and other laws that God gave to the people of Israel. He knows his Old Testament inside out and backwards, he knows his Bible. But as this lawyer talks with Jesus it becomes increasingly clear that despite how much of the Bible he knows, despite being an expert in the law, this man actually understands very little because he does not read the Bible with Jesus in the centre.

This lawyer reads the Bible as an instruction manual; as a list of the demands that God has placed on the human beings He created. This lawyer knows the law, he knows what God wants people to do, how He wants them to live, and he does his best to follow all of those laws perfectly. So he comes to Jesus with a question. He asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He wants to know the key to the instruction manual. What needs to be done? What must I do?

This is the wrong way to read the Bible. This is the wrong way to approach the Word of God. But it is our favourite way to read the Bible. We love instruction manuals. If you’ve ever built a piece of furniture that you needed to assemble from IKEA or something you might think that you hate instruction manuals, but deep down we really like them. We like things that tell us what to do, how to live, how to make our lives better. That’s why “self-help” books are some of the most popular books in the world today. They are instruction manuals in disguise. We often bring our love for instruction manuals to the Bible too, just like the lawyer in our text did. We look to the Bible to find out how to live, to learn the rules, or to get some good advice. In the sermons at church on Sunday we like these kinds of things too; instructions. But the Bible is not an instruction manual. You can read it like one, but that is not its purpose. If we read it that way we are missing the point entirely.

The problem is that if we read the Bible as an instruction manual it sets up impossible expectations for us. The instructions in there, the laws, we can’t do what they say. The Bible says love your neighbour as yourself. That sounds like a great idea, great instructions, but how is it going in practice? How are you doing at loving your neighbour? How’s it going loving the neighbour who cuts you off on the highway or who cuts in line at the grocery store? It’s tough. It’s so tough that we end up trying to make it a bit easier. The lawyer who came to Jesus asks, “Who is my neighbour?” He wants to narrow things down so he knows who he has to love in order to be following the instructions. Who is his neighbour? Everyone around him! We try to do stuff like this too, we pick and choose which neighbours we will love, we make loving our neighbour a thing that we do sometimes, when the conditions are right. The Bible doesn’t say try sometimes to love your neighbour, it says love your neighbour. No ifs, ands, or buts. If the Bible is an instruction manual we are in a big mess.

But this is where the story of the Good Samaritan comes in. Jesus tells this story after the lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbour?” so that he knows who he needs to go and love. But Jesus doesn’t give him the answer he is looking for. At the end of the story of the Good Samaritan Jesus asks, “Which one of these three men proved to be a neighbour to the man who was beaten by robbers and left for dead?” Jesus doesn’t use the story to tell us who our neighbour is that needs our help, instead he turns our attention to our neighbour how helps us. Have you ever asked someone a question only to have them answer a completely different question than the one you asked? That is what Jesus does here. He doesn’t tell the lawyer who to go help in order to keep the commandment, he directs us all to look at our neighbour who helps us.

So that raise the question: who are we in this Good Samaritan story, where do we fit? Are we the helpful and caring Samaritan, or are we the half dead guy in the ditch. If we read the Bible like an instruction manual we are supposed to be like the Good Samaritan, but if we read the Bible with Jesus in the middle of everything then we are like the dead guy at the side of the road.

Sin has left us beaten up, bleeding, and half dead at the side of the road. Our own sin that leads us into all kinds of self-destructive behaviours, the sin of other people that leads them to hurt and abuse us through words and actions, and sin in the world that leads to death. The pain and suffering we experience in this world at the hands of other people and even ourselves leave us jaded and cautious. We a reluctant to help the strangers around us because we can’t be sure that it is safe to do so.  The devil is behind all of this, hurting us, harassing us, and leading us to destruction. He uses this world and the sin that is in it to leave us half dead at the side of the road, unable to do anything to help ourselves let alone help and love other people. We are so broken by sin that loving our neighbour has become impossible.

But then the Good Samaritan comes along, that is Jesus. He comes to us in our brokenness, He sees how beaten up and messed up we really are, and He comes right down into the ditch with us to rescue us. We are such a mess, so destroyed by sin in us and the handiwork of the devil that nobody would blame him for just passing on by on the other side. It’s a mess down here where we are and nobody in their right mind wants to deal with that, but Jesus comes down from heaven, takes on human flesh, and joins us in the ditch so that through His death on the cross we would be saved from death and so that through His resurrection from the dead we would be restored to health. He picks us up and carries us to safety, finds a place where we can rest and heal, pays for everything that we need and more, and then He saves us from death.

The great news from this story of the Good Samaritan is that Jesus is your neighbour. Jesus asks the lawyer, “Which one of these three proved to be a neighbour to the man who had been beaten by robbers.” Answering Jesus, the lawyer said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus is the one who showed us mercy. The one who loved us in spite of our sin, felt compassion for us and the mess we made for ourselves, and came to us to rescue us. Who proved to be a neighbour to us? Jesus did.

And our Good Neighbour, Jesus, who had mercy on us and saved us invites us to “Go and do likewise. Love your neighbour as I have loved you.” Without Jesus and His life giving death on the cross for us the prospect of loving our neighbours is impossible. We were too busy trying in vain to keep ourselves alive in the ditch. But now that Jesus has healed us, given us life, fed us with His body and blood at this altar, we can go out into the world and love our neighbour.

But here’s the great thing, when Jesus is at the middle of the story we are set free. We don’t love our neighbour because we have to or because we feel constrained to do so by God’s commands, but we are free. Free to love our neighbour because Jesus loved us first.

The Bible is not an instruction manual. When we make it one it becomes a burden that we can never carry. Its commandments are too heavy for us. But when we read the Bible with Jesus at the middle and stop looking for “how to” instructions to fix our lives ourselves, we find freedom. Because Jesus has taken care of our salvation. Questions like “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” become irrelevant. Jesus is the only thing that matters. He gives eternal life freely through His death and resurrection. And now we are free, free to love. Amen.

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