My heart has been heavy over all the anger I see expressed on social media by people who call themselves Christians. It is hard to understand how people can say such hateful things about neighbors we have been called to love. People nip at one another harshly without regard for the feelings of others. Feeling weary, I back away from calling out the hypocrisy I see and hide the posts of those who make me want to weep. Somehow it feels safer than trying to speak truth to those with hardened hearts. Yet, Jesus in Luke 10 confronted selfishness and lovingly used a story to call a friend to act with compassion.
Jesus was tested by a religious leader who wanted to know the minimum requirement for righteousness. “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”(Luke 10:25). Jesus responded by asking him about what he understood about God’s law. Our actions flow from our understanding of who God is and what he asks of us. The religious leader’s response was, “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” (Luke 10:27). He went back to the heart of the Hebrew prayer that encapsulates faith. We love God with the whole of our being and then we love our neighbor in the same way that we love ourselves. Jesus affirmed this summary of the law saying, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28). Jesus affirmed the answer and then he called him to live that out in his daily life.
It is one thing to repeat words, but it is another thing to live them out day by day. Jesus agreed with the theology of loving God and neighbor but he called for the religious leader to put those words into action in his everyday life. Jesus was asking for more than mere lip service, he was asking to see behaviors that flowed from a heart anchored to God’s truth. The religious leader was not satisfied with Jesus’ response and he wanted to justify himself so he poked further at Jesus asking “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:30). His selfish heart is asking, "Who am I allowed not to love? Surely there must be limits to this challenge to love others?"
Jesus went on to tell the story of the good Samaritan who models what it means to love a neighbor.
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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side (Luke 10:30-32).
In telling the story of the good Samaritan it is important to know the cast so you can find yourself in the story. It is too easy to cast ourselves as the helpless victim and lash out at those who did not help. Or perhaps we may think that we would be the good Samaritan and step in to be generous and sacrificial. But Jesus told the story so that his listeners' heroes were the people who passed by on the other side. He connected his audience with all the "good people" who did nothing. The fellow religious leaders in the story passed by the injured man without extending him any compassion. They were more concerned with themselves and getting to where they needed to go without making themselves unclean by touching blood or being inconvenienced or risking their own safety. They saw the injured man, but they also saw the risks they would encounter by stepping into the situation. Jesus wanted them to recognize the behavior as selfishness. The religious leader asking the question "who is my neighbor?" probably felt bad for asking a question that exposed his own selfishness by trying to limit who he might be expected to care about. Jesus is making clear that his kingdom is bigger than taking care of our own and we are called to cross barriers to demonstrate love.
The kingdom of God is marked by generous love that steps into the pain of others. Jesus did not choose to lecture about the selfishness he saw, he chose instead to use the power of a story. He made someone his audience would have considered an enemy into the generous hero of the narrative. He creatively used story to invite his audience into the life of someone perceived as "other" and invites the audience to connect with them as fellow hurting human beings. Jesus challenged his audience to set aside their own self-interest to cross barriers to care for the needs of their neighbor.
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. 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.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:33-37).
The Samaritan crossed many barriers in dealing with the injured man left for dead along the road. The first barrier the Samaritan crossed was the road. He physically made his way over to the man and got involved in his life. He crossed a social barrier by helping someone who would have despised him if he was conscious. The emotional barrier that existed between these groups of people became irrelevant as he witnessed the pain of a fellow human being. He invested time and energy tending to the wounds of a stranger. The Samaritan crossed a financial barrier giving freely of his resources of oil, and wine, and money. It took courage to extend himself into the life of the injured man. People might have questioned his intentions or even assumed that he was responsible. The Samaritan demonstrated the heart of the gospel by modeling for others the importance of overcoming obstacles and getting involved in the pain and messiness of the life of others.
Our culture has a selfish focus on individualism that misses the importance of caring for our neighbors. The political divide is uprooting our willingness to love our neighbor. It is hard for us to interact with people who think differently than us. It is easier to stay in our bubble with people who think and act like us. We are uninterested in listening to one another or hearing about the pain that they are experiencing. We are are so sure of how right we are that we won't listen to others, much less step into their struggles. Stepping outside of our ethnic community feels risky.
Yet we are called to show the love of God to our neighbors. The neighbors who don't look and think like us. Those who believe differently than us. Those whose life choices upset us. Even those who might despise us. We are told to see, and care, and even act on the pain of our fellow humans instead of focusing on the differences that divide us. Barriers need to be crossed.
Jesus used a story to lovingly guide his audience to step into the pain of others and act with compassion. How might you tap into that same power by listening to the stories of others? Take the time to get to know the pain of other ethnic groups and cultivate relationships with those who think differently from yourself. Engage lovingly with others to understand their perspective. Take your conversation out of the social media landscape that encourages yelling and have a private chat or better yet an in-person conversation. Take time to get to know others and step into their pain.
If you want to challenge a Christian sister or brother to greater love, remember that truth needs to be spoken in the context of love. Choose to use the gift of story to help them step understand the pain of others. Share stories that widen our perspective to see the expansiveness of God's kingdom. A day is coming when we will be astounded by all the people included in God's big family.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10).
God's kingdom will be bigger than our understanding and we do not get to make the guest list. God calls us to compassion just like he called out the religious leader to whom he told this story. We are called to see our neighbor's pain and act with compassion. Let God's word guide you to respond with grace and compassion to your neighbor's need.
Rev. Deb Koster