We hear ‘love your neighbour’ all the time, but what happens if we’re still trying to do this in our own strength?
Luke 10:25-37 (focus on verses 29-37)
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘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, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
I used to read this parable of the Good Samaritan as a simple call to do a better job of loving my neighbour. At its surface, it seems pretty straightforward: love your neighbour perfectly to receive God’s favour. Paul writes in Galatians 5:14, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” In this story, Jesus tells the expert in the law that by keeping the law faithfully in this way, he will receive eternal life.
Every time I’ve come back to this story, though, I’ve been struck by how it can’t be that simple. Who among us has ever succeeded in loving our neighbour perfectly? I find it hard enough to love those close to me, without even considering how I could love a stranger on the street. I get so frustrated with my dad sometimes and respond in anger more than I’d like to admit. I’m quick to let a friendship fade because I’m too lazy to keep in touch with the very person I claim to love. I’m too concerned with my own comfort to keep trying to talk with the person at church I find a bit awkward. If I imagine myself as part of this story Jesus tells, I have to ask myself, “Would I have been one of the people that passed by on the other side of the road?” Even when the whole of God’s law is summarised as a simple command to love our neighbour, are we able to do even this one thing perfectly?
Remember, Jesus is telling this story in response to the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” To me, it almost seems that Jesus’ answer is meant to leave us shaking our heads and thinking, “There’s no way I can ever prove myself worthy of eternal life!” I don’t think it’s an accident that the men in the story who ignore the needy man are religious experts in Jewish law; it’s like the whole story shouts, “The law couldn’t save him!”
The more I read the story, the more I see myself, not as the Good Samaritan, but as the man lying battered and broken, needing mercy. I see Jesus as the Good Samaritan, the one who crossed the street to find me, leaving heaven behind to dwell on earth. Jesus was the one who saw me spiritually dying and swapped places with me, allowing himself to be stripped of his clothes, beaten, and left for dead. He is the one whose perfect love has earned us eternal life, life that he has given freely to all who believe.
Head: Which character in the story do you think best represents yourself?
Heart: What are examples of times you’ve ‘crossed the street’ to avoid showing love to a needy person? How might Jesus’ example change what you do next time?
Hands: Who is one needy person I could show Jesus’ love to today?
Prayer: Jesus, thank you for showing me mercy. Forgive me for arrogantly trying to earn eternal life through my own strength, and help me to rest in your saving work. May your example of selfless love move me to love my neighbour radically.
A song to listen to: What Love, My God
Matthew Ventura – Living Church City South