Today’s read included the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. Maybe you’ve heard this phrase but didn’t realize it came from a story Jesus told a lawyer who asked Him how to inherit eternal life. Jesus answered the lawyer’s question with a question, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?”
The lawyer quotes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, where God commands the children of Israel to “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.” Jesus tells the lawyer if he does this, he will live. Being a lawyer, the man wanted to know exactly where the lines were…he wanted to justify himself…so he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” The story of the Good Samaritan gives us the answer.
In a nutshell, a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan all passed by a man lying on the side of the road, having been robbed and beaten. The priest and the Levite ignored him, crossing to the other side of the road to avoid him. The Samaritan, however, showed mercy. He rescued the man, tended his wounds, took him to a safe place, and paid for his care. Jesus says this man proved to be a neighbor and instructs the lawyer to do likewise.
I find it curious that the man did not question his love for God in regard to justifying himself. He assumed he loved God enough to inherit eternal life, but he was worried about meeting God’s standard of loving his neighbor. He wanted to do just enough to earn the reward. His question reveals that he did not really love God at all. A person who truly loves the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength has no interest or inclination to “mete out” just enough love for others to make the grade. They aren’t worried about being just nice enough or kind enough to be a “good” Christian. Instead, the love they have for God spills over uninhibited and uncontained. They desire to show mercy because they have received mercy. They treat others in the same way God has treated them.
We can only love God because He first loved us and poured His love into our hearts (1 John 4:19-20). Love for others does not earn us God’s favor, it reveals that we already have experienced it.
Jesus’ story is convicting. Samaritans and Jews were enemies. Samaritans were considered “half-breeds” and both groups harbored deep prejudices against each other. The Good Samaritan crossed those boundaries and showed great mercy and love for hurting man, which is the second lesson Jesus was teaching. A true love of God does away with all prejudice we may secretly hold towards those who have a different skin color, a different religion (or no religion or respect for God at all), a different ethnicity, language or view of life.
Are you prejudiced? Do you look at others and make judgments on them based on skin color or their lack of measuring up to your standards? Do you consider yourself better than others, even if you would never admit it out loud? Or, is your heart moved with compassion and love for them, realizing they need mercy just as you have received mercy? Would you care for them just as you care for your “own people”?
Do you love God and tolerate your neighbor? Or do you love God and love your neighbor as yourself? Jesus wasn’t teaching us that if we love God and others “enough” we can earn eternal life. He is revealing our fallen human nature that must be changed by God before we can love at all. Let’s be people that love God so much we cannot wait to love others and show them mercy. Let’s set aside our prejudices and ask God for a heart like His. The world is hurting and broken and in need. Let’s love others just like God loves us.