These exhortations were given by me between 1999 and 2005. That was a long time ago, and I have grown a lot since then. They may not reflect my current beliefs.
This morning I want to consider two parables: the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Normally it can be a dangerous thing to draw too much from parables. They are stories that illustrate a point, rather than being literal events. An incautious reading of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus would lead us to believe that the faithful really went to the Bosom of Abraham, for example. However, the idea that I want to draw out of the two parables today is, I think, a primary message of both of them, and it is supported by other literal, explicit teachings as well. Luke chapter 10, verses 25 to 37:
And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
The Lawyer summed up the message of the law and the prophets as “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.” Christ used the same summary on other occasions.
“Who is my neighbour?” asked the Lawyer. In reply, Christ tells him about the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan saw the man at the side of the road. He took care of him. He dressed his wounds. He transported him to a place of safety. He even paid for his material needs during his convalescence. This Samaritan was an example of loving your neighbour as yourself. He did everything he could to help another human being.
Matthew 25, verses 31 to 40:
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Who is this parable talking about? It looks like there are two groups of people, the sheep and the goats, the righteous and the unrighteous. There are actually three groups: the sheep, the goats, and Christ’s brethren. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren,” says Christ to the righteous, “ye have done it unto me.” You have done something good for these people, and that is like doing good to me. If the brethren of Christ were among the sheep Christ wouldn’t have said “these my brethren” he would have said “You my brethren”.
If you want further proof that the sheep and the goats did not contain the brethren of Christ you just have to look at the first line of the parable. “And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another”. The brothers and sisters of Christ are not part of the nations. Also, consider the reaction of the sheep when they are told that they have done good. They didn’t know that they had done good to Christ by loving their neighbour. They must be ignorant of this very parable. Who among Christ’s brethren could be ignorant of this parable? It is one of the best known parables that there is.
The sheep, the righteous, get lead into the Kingdom of God. These are people who loved their neighbour as themselves.
Let’s go back to the Samaritan. The Bible is an incredibly terse book. It is long, but it is not padded with unnecessary detail. Christ’s public ministry lasted three years, yet we only have a very small number of the things that he said recorded for us. It is fair enough to assume that every word that is recorded is important. The good man in the parable was the Samaritan. The Samaritans were not the people of God. The Samaritan was like the Sheep. He loved his neighbour as himself. He was held up as an example of how to behave.
Matthew 22, verses 35-40:
Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Loving God is the first commandment. Loving your neighbour as yourself is the second. Christ was asked for the greatest commandment, and he gave both of these. The first is not above the second. It is like unto it.
We have seen how someone who loved his neighbour as himself was an example of good behaviour. We have seen how an entire group of people, the Sheep, gained entrance to the Kingdom of God, based not on their love for God and their knowledge of him, but because they loved their neighbour as themselves.
It would never occur to anyone to doubt the importance of loving God. These two parables, particularly the second, should remind us how important loving your neighbour is. Loving your neighbour as yourself, it seems, is enough to get you into the Kingdom of God.
I am not preaching universalism. I am not suggesting that we should loosen our fellowship. I am saying that love towards your neighbour is as important as loving God.