Note: I preached the sermon, “Love is responsible” (Luke 10:25-37), at University Church of the Nazarene on the campus of Africa Nazarene University (Nairobi) on Sunday, February 27, 2017. As a mnemonic, I represented the five points of responsibility by the five fingers on the hand.
A man was walking from Jerusalem down to Jericho. Suddenly, robbers attacked him. They stripped him naked and left him for dead along the side of the road.
A priest came along. He saw the man, but perhaps was afraid of making himself ceremonially unclean, so he passed by on the other side of the road and hurried on his way.
Not long after, a Levite happened by. He, too, avoided the dying man and scurried down the road on the other side.
Finally, along came a Samaritan. When he saw the beaten and bleeding man, his heart went out to him. He knelt down beside him and gave him first aid; he poured oil and wine on his wounds, then took him in his arms and placed him on his donkey. They traveled to a nearby inn where the Samaritan took care of him like one of his own family. The next morning, he paid the inn keeper two days worth of his own wages. “I have to go now,” he said. “Take this money to care for the man, and when I come back through, if the bill exceeds this amount, let me know. I’ll cover the difference.”
Jesus turned to the crowd who was listening. “Of these three, which one was a neighbor?” The religious leader who’d started the conversation replied: “The man who had mercy on him.” The Lord concluded: “Now you go and do the same.”
Often we hear this story with little reference to its context. But really it’s a love story. After all, in Luke 10:25-37, Jesus was talking about love. What does it mean to love God? And what does it mean to love our neighbor?
The religious leader who prompted Jesus to tell the parable of the good Samaritan asked: “But who is my neighbor?” What did he really want to know? He was asking: For whom am I responsible? We could even say that in this parable, Jesus defines love with a single word: responsibility. I would go so far as to say that love = responsibility.
The five responsibilities
Let’s take a few minutes today and talk about the 5 responsibilities, as represented by the five fingers on the hand.
Ecclesiastes 12:1 (CEB) reminds us: “Remember your creator in the days of your youth.” Likewise, Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, being, strength, and mind (Luke 10:27a). Responsibility always begins vertically, between us and the one who made us. When we realize that we must give an account to God, then all of our other responsibilities fall into place.
The index finger: We are responsible for ourselves.
Jesus said: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27b). Implied in the phrase “as yourself” is that you can only love others if you first love yourself. Since love = responsibility, you and I must take responsibility for ourselves.
What are the habits in our lives that are unhealthy? Perhaps we are spending too much time on the internet instead of more productive activities, like exercise, studying, or making music. Or maybe we work 24/7, ignoring the Sabbath principle. God has made us to need rest and gave us the example when he rested on the seventh day. Are we taking care of our bodies? We are responsible for oursevles.
The third finger: We are responsible for our families.
Cain killed his brother Abel. When God asked him where Abel was, he flippantly replied: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Yet Christianity affirms: “I am my brother’s keeper.”
Family counts. The fifth of the ten commandments requires: “Honor your father and your mother.” Ephesians 6:3 (CEB) even adds a promise for those who do: “…so that things will go well for you, and you will live for a long time in the land.”
Yet there’s more than children honoring their parents. Paul continues in Ephesians 6:4 (CEB): “As for parents, don’t provoke your children to anger, but raise them with discipline and instruction about the Lord.”
Our reponsibility to our families goes beyond our children who are currently living. In Africa, we understand that responsibility is multi-generational. Our responsibility extends to those who are yet to be born, our descendants. What kind of Earth will we leave to them?
Last week, I was driving on Magadi road. The car in front of me was full, apparently with the father and mother in front and the children in back. Suddenly, the woman sitting in the passenger seat up front rolled down the window and threw a load of trash onto the road. I wonder: Is that the kind of example that we want to give our children? Will we leave our children and our grandchildren a world that is polluted? Will they have clean water to drink? Instead, let’s remember when we take care of nature, we take care of ourselves.
The ring finger: We are responsible for the community of faith.
Over the past several weeks, we’ve seen a wonderful example of the church taking care of her own. We’ve contributed together for the medical expenses of our District Superintendent. We prayed to God for his healing; God had other plans and how he is with the Lord. But through this experience, our love for each other has been evident.
Galatians 6:2 (CEB) reminds us: “Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.” This verse it talking about a crushing load. Now, we each have a responsibility to do our part, yet here the community of faith comes alongside and helps its own to make it when the burden is especially heavy.
Sometimes we see women carrying things on their heads as they go to the market. There’s a proverb from Ghana that captures this image: “Make up your own tray, then we’ll help you put it on your head.” God does not reward laziness; we should each do our part. We should each be capable of making up our own tray. Yet when we band together to help each other – when we help others get the tray safely placed on their head – then we are loving each other, then we are taking responsibility for each other in the community of faith. This is especially important when one of our number is suffering a special time of need that they can’t bear alone.
The little finger: We are responsible for all, even our enemies.
This brings us full circle back to the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus does something radical. He makes the hero of the story a Samaritan man.
We know from the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 that Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along. When Jesus asked her for a drink, she replied: “Why do you, a Jewish man, ask for something to drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” (John 4:9, CEB). In fact, there was longstanding bad blood between Jews and Samaritans, stemming back hundreds of years. When the Jews returned from Babylonian captivity and were trying to resettle around Jerusalem, the Samaritans actively opposed their resettlement. So this was a longstanding feud.
But the lesson of the parable of the Good Samaritan is that God doesn’t see white skin or black skin. He doesn’t care about what divides us; he has made us all in the image of God.
Several years ago, we were living in Oklahoma. It was election season and many news organizations were conducting polls to see which candidates were ahead in the lead-up to election day. One night the phone rang, and it was a pollster. For the next 15 minutes, I answered questions about my positions on this issue or that, or what I thought about candidate A and candidate B. At the end of the poll, the caller said he needed to know what “race” I was, then read down a long list of possibilities: Caucasion, African-American, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander, and so forth. “So,” he asked, “what race are you?” I replied: “Human.”
We’re coming into an election season here in Kenya, and people will be anxious to divide you by your tribe, emphasizing whether you’re Kikuyu, Luo, Luya, Kamba, or many others. Don’t forget: There is only one race, the human race. We are all created in the image of God, and therefore we are responsible for all, even those who in the past we have considered our enemy.
A bully was picking on a Christian boy. “Is it true that Jesus said that if someone strikes you on one cheek, you have to turn the other cheek?” Quietly, the boy responded: “Yes, that’s true.” The bully slapped the Christian boy on his right cheek. Slowly, he turned the other cheek, so the bully slapped that one, too. Suddenly, the Christian fought back, pummeling the bully to the ground. Bruised, he looked up and protested: “I thought you said you had to turn the other cheek?” “I did turn the other cheek,” the Christian boy replied, “but the Bible doesn’t specify after that.”
Sometimes we’re not sure what to do with Jesus’ peaceful teachings. I don’t think he’s asking us to be a doormat, yet he does call us to take a higher road than the world takes. Jesus said in Matthew 5:43-44 (CEB): “You have heard that it was said: ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you…” A Samaritan saved the life of a Jewish man left for dead alongside a dusty road. The example is clear: We have no choice but to love.
Summing it all up
Love = responsibility. Just like we have five fingers on our hand, so we have five responsibilities. First, we are responsible to God, to love him with all our heart, being, strength and mind. Secondly, we are responsible for ourselves, to take care of our bodies and to – with God’s help – eliminate the bad habits that hinder our spiritual progress. Third, we are responsible for our families, to care for our children both born and yet to be born (future generations), by caring for nature, our gift to them. Fourth, we are responsible for the community of faith. In times of special need, we come alongside our brothers and sisters to help them bear a crushing load. Finally, we are responsible for all, even those who we have considered our enemies.
But let’s be honest: This is a tall order, especially the fifth responsibility. It’s impossible on our own to love those who despise us. Only God can do that by filling our hearts with his love. Paul prays for the Ephesians: “I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19, CEB).
Let us love by fulfilling our responsibilities, and let us not attempt this in our own weakness. Rather, let us depend upon God to keep filling us up with his love!