- Jesus commandment to love our neighbors sounds quite simple.
- But who are our neighbors, exactly?
- What are the ultimate measures of our hearts?
My faith journey would be so much easier if Jesus didn’t teach a few things here and there.
For instance, “love God” is (on most days) a doable commandment. It’s not easy but it’s also not too difficult. Had Jesus just ended it there, not too much of a problem, you know?
But he had to go on and add, “love your neighbors.”
Which is infinitely more difficult than the first part because, have you seen some of the neighbors?
I resonate with the legal expert who asked Jesus (in Luke 10): “And who is my neighbor?”
Who is my neighbor?
Instead of responding with an answer, Jesus tells a story. Stories have the power to transform lives and thoughts. Instead of being bogged down by theological, ideological , and philosophical discussions, Jesus talks about a road that all his listeners know is a fairly dangerous road.
Not surprisingly, a man gets robbed and beaten while traveling on that narrow road.
A priest intentionally avoids the beaten man, moving to the other side of the road so he doesn’t make contact with the injured man.
Then a Levite (a religious leader) did the same thing the priest did.
Then a Samaritan comes along and is “moved with compassion.” He dresses the man’s wounds, loads the man on his donkey, and takes him to a nearby inn. The Samaritan pays the innkeeper two full days’ worth of wages and asks the innkeeper to take care of the injured man and when he returns, he’ll pay any additional costs the man might have incurred.
On the surface level, we might tell this story to be kind and compassionate to the people that we pass by who might be in need.
We wouldn’t even give a second thought to the word “Samaritan” because most of us are familiar with it nowadays.
Good Samaritan Hospital
Good Samaritan Church.
Good Samaritan Law.
The words “good” and “Samaritan” go together like “peanut” and “butter.”
But if we just settle for that, we miss out on the point that Jesus is making.
Jesus concludes his story with: What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”
The lawyer responded with: “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”
Wouldn’t it have been easier to just say, “The Samaritan?”
Sure. Less words. But saying “Samaritan” would require more effort because for the lawyer and other faithful Israelites in that time there was nothing good about Samaritans.
Samaritans were to be avoided — at best.
A faithful Israelite wouldn’t be caught dead with a Samaritan.
Which is why the Lawyer couldn’t bring himself to even say the word “Samaritan” and instead addressed him as “the one.”
Think about the people whose names we won’t say. We may often talk about our past relationship calling them “My Ex” instead of using their names.
Or that neighbor. Those people.
Names connect us. Names create intimacy. Think about how we feel when we can’t remember someone’s name.
The Lawyer responds, “the one…”
And Jesus says, that’s your neighbor. That’s who you are called to love.
Your neighbor isn’t just the people who you get along with; who think like you; who vote like you; who share the same interests; who you find easy to love and be with.
Your neighbor is also the one that gets underneath your skin; the one who is the complete opposite of you in ideological, political, and theological realms; the one you wish didn’t exist; the one who’s name you won’t even say.
Jesus’ solution of getting rid of your enemies is to pray for them (genuinely wish them well and the best) and love them in such a way that one day you wake up and realize they’re no longer enemies in your heart.
The Samaritan is deemed “good” not because of how many Bible verses he memorized, how often he went to the temple, how articulate he was in shaming those who thought differently from him using religious terms, nor how eloquent his prayers were.
The Samaritan was “good” because he made love the priority in his life. Being religious was what led the priest and the Levite to avoid the injured man. It was embodying love that made the Samaritan stop in his tracks and help a man who probably was conditioned to hate him.
However, this story means nothing if we don’t apply it in our lives. What does it mean for us?
The measure of our hearts
Well. For starters, it means that we need to look beyond just our community; that our love needs to expand further than “me and mines.” We need to, as Wendell Berry wrote: “imagine lives that are not yours.”
And look, it wasn’t like the hate between the Israelites and Samaritans was one-sided. It was a mutual hate. But the remarkable thing about this Samaritan was that he saw a human being in need first and not a label.
The ultimate measure of Jesus Christ on our hearts won’t be where we stood in the moments of comfort and convenience but where we stood in the times of challenges and controversy. When we truly love our neighbor as we love God, we will be led to risk our position, prestige, social standing for others.
It’s what Jesus did.
It’s what we’re invited to do.
What does it mean, for you, to love your neighbor?
May we not get caught up in the paralysis of analysis like the lawyer in Luke 10, but may we embody and practice the words of Jesus: Go, and do likewise.