I went over to a fellow pastor's house once to have a meeting and ask for advice. As I approached his house, I noticed a great deal of political signs planted in his front yard. His garage door was open, too, and there were even more signs inside. The signs were either promoting a political candidate or they had bumper-sticker slogans on them--his politics in a nutshell. Inside, during our meeting, he told me the political parties that we needed to protect the state from. We needed to get these enemies out. Why? Because they were not compassionate to the poor. He cited the parable of the good Samaritan for support. In order for us to be like the good Samaritan, Christians needed to be on this pastor's end of the political spectrum.
So, are the poor included under the umbrella of "neighbor?" Yes, of course they are. Who else is included under the umbrella of neighbor? My fellow pastor's political opponents, that's who. Was my fellow pastor showing mercy to his political opponents? Not on your life. A young lady in seminary once went on a rant about many Anglican churches being completely white demographically. Her solution to this problem was to force churches to be more diverse and to make sure the proper percentages of minorities were represented. The professor's response to her? "You need to have mercy."
Our neighbors are not necessarily the people we are attracted to. Most of our neighbors are people we don't actually like. The Jews did not like the Samaritans, which is one of the reasons Jesus uses a Samaritan as the "good guy" in this parable. Let's look at an example of showing mercy in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 18, starting at verse 21.
Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. In other words, there is no count on the number of times we must forgive our neighbor, the amount of times we must show mercy. Now Jesus launches into another parable. "Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. A "talent" is about 20 years' wages. How can this servant ever pay this amount of money off? Answer: he can't. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' The appears to be repentance, but as we will see, it is false repentance. And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. That word for pity is a deep compassion that comes from the gut, from the heart. This appears to be forgiveness of the man's sins, but look at what happens next. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii [a single denarii is about a day's wage], and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, 'Pay what you owe.' This servant who was shown mercy is now not being merciful to his neighbor. So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. See how under the exact same circumstances, the King's servant does not show the same pity that the King showed him? When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. False repentance eventually led to this servant's forgiveness being revoked. Jesus finishes the parable with this exhortation: So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart." When we say the Lord's prayer, we say, "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." By not forgiving our neighbor the sins he commits against us, we are at the same time not being forgiven by the Lord. Jesus died for our sins. Repent and be forgiven AND show fruit in keeping with repentance. One of those fruits is forgiving our neighbor, showing mercy to him. If we aren't bearing that fruit, we aren't forgiven ourselves.
But our emotions won't let us forgive everyone! There are too many unrepentant people out there whom we just cannot forgive! There are too many people who hurt us! And they seem to get away with it, too. How can we forgive them? How can we show mercy to someone who just does not deserve mercy? The reason may be because we are still trying to identify with the good Samaritan. Jesus tells the lawyer to go and do likewise. He must have meant that we are to be like the good Samaritan, right? But perhaps God knows that we are unable to be like that lofty character. Jesus only tells that lawyer that he must show mercy like the good Samaritan. Who are we in this parable?
Are we the lawyer? Well, in a way we are: we try to test God all the time. We try to justify ourselves. So, yes, we are like the lawyer. We are very much like the Priest and the Levite who pass by the fallen man, because we don't want to get involved. We are even like the robbers themselves, because we are constantly committing sin against our neighbor. It's much easier to do that than to show mercy.
But let's look at the parable and see who we really are:
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Notice that the self-justification comes early. An inheritance is, well, inherited! There's nothing one can DO to inherit something. It must be a gift. So, the lawyer is, right off the bat, wanting to earn his eternal life, not receive it as a gift, which is our natural state, too. We want to EARN our salvation. 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?" Here is where we were at the beginning. We want some people to be our neighbors and others to not. 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. Here's a thought: we are the stripped and beaten man. We have literally fallen into sin. The robbers are the devil himself, who tempted our federal head, and subsequently all of us, into total depravity. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. The priest cannot touch a dead body, or he will be unclean and cannot fulfill his obligation to the ceremonial law. He represents the law. In other words, the law cannot save us. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. Another example of the Mosaic law not being able to save us. We cannot self-justify by keeping the law. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. This is Jesus Christ himself, who came to where we are, to Earth, and had pity on us, from his gut. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Covering us with his own blood. 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.' Not only does the Lord sacrifice much for us, but he leaves us the church to take care of us until his return. We know that there is a second coming imminent.
Perhaps it is easier to show mercy to your neighbor, whoever he or she is, when you realize that you are not the Samaritan. You are the beaten man whose wounds have been bound by God. Wine, the shed blood of Christ, has been poured over you. Jesus has given us the church to take care of each other and those neighbors whom we would prefer not to touch, because of our indwelling sin. Christ will come again to judge the quick and the dead. The merciful will inherit eternal life. Are we not able to show mercy now that we realize that we are the one to whom Christ, the Good Samaritan, has shown mercy?