By Captain Ryan Boyd
Missoula, MT Corps – Northwest Division
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 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’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
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. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 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. 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.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:25-37
The story of the Good Samaritan is one that, like you, I have heard a million times. In it, we read that we should love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. And no doubt about it, the Good Samaritan showed great love to the man going to Jericho. But as I was reading this passage, it came to me. Often, we (as people) tend to be more like the expert in the law than the Good Samaritan.
As Jesus is telling this story, the people listening were probably feeing challenged by His words. If loving God means obeying his commands and loving our neighbor means loving with compassion, care, and cost, am I really loving? Am I living up to this standard? We probably feel this way as well when we read these words.
And because we are human, we start looking for a loophole. We know we haven’t lived up to these standards and so we try to bend the standards to fit what we can attain. God says, “do this” and we think “well, surely He meant only do this when I feel like it. I’m totally doing that. I’m such a good Christian.” So, when Jesus says to love your neighbor, immediately they think “well, who is my neighbor?” Because if my neighbor means those I am close to, those I agree with, those who hold the same religious and political beliefs that I do, then YES! Done. So maybe it just all depends on how we define who our neighbor is. So, the expert in the law asks that very question.
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Now this question is not really a question to find out who his neighbor is. It says right in the beginning that he wanted to justify himself. He knew he wasn’t living up to the standard. The question he asks, “who is my neighbor?” is really asking who do I not have to love? Who is my neighbor? = Who don’t I have to love?
That is what he really wants to know. Just how far does my love have to extend and where can it end? So Jesus tells the story of the Samaritan and asks the expert in the law “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
We hear the story of the Good Samaritan and think that is terrible that those first 2 people did not help. That Samaritan man was so nice. That is because we have heard this story so many times AND We don’t have the cultural reference points of those who were hearing this story the first time. I’m sure that the people listening to Jesus were appalled that he was using priests and Levites as the poor examples. Jews felt the priests and the Levites were good people, righteous in fact. And a Samaritan was one of the most despised people to the Jews. They were half breeds. They did not keep their race pure or their religion.
Jesus isn’t teaching people to believe like Samaritans. In this story, He is not even teaching that all priests and Levites are bad. Jesus is answering two questions and doing it in a way that is going to offend some and challenge those who have ears to hear. My goal is to be challenged every single time. The questions are: 1. Am I loving the way that God calls me to love? and 2. Am I loving WHO God calls me to love?
Sometimes, loving people is so easy it’s like second nature. We have the world’s best Home League Secretary, Norma, at our corps. She is so helpful and selfless and anticipates needs and meets them. When Josh started coughing during his sermon, the next week there was a water bottle. She takes such good care of us. She’s so easy to love that I want to shower her with gifts and words of affirmation. I want her to see what a blessing she is to me and the Kingdom.
I am all about being real and transparent. Sometimes, loving people is so hard I don’t want to do it anymore. There is a lady who comes in for services at our building all the time. We are the only place she can be inside in town and she suffers from trauma and severe mental health issues. She likes to call me names, she uses our lawn as a bathroom, and she yells at and berates us daily. I don’t want to buy her anything. In fact, days where she doesn’t come visit us are so peaceful.
But God calls me to love her just like I love Norma. The difference is Norma’s love costs me nothing. In fact, I gain with Norma. But loving the second woman costs me my patience, my pride, and, some days, my ability to show love. I don’t tell you this because I think I’m amazing – because I don’t think I am. In fact, I think I fail at loving her just as much as I succeed – but I think that she keeps coming back because she feels God’s love coming from our building. She is my neighbor. God calls me to love her as I love myself.
I can see why the religious people of the day were like Jesus, are you sure? And God is saying yes. 100%. I am sure that you need to love them as you love yourself. When I read the question “and who is my neighbor” I always imagine Jesus saying “everyone I died for is your neighbor. The whosoever.”
I think there’s another side of this story that I never considered until I saw it on a meme. I don’t usually get my theology from a meme, but this one spoke to me. It said: “The Good Samaritan story is not just an example of compassionate spirituality. It is a critique against religious passivity. If “church people” won’t work for justice and mercy, God will find some other people who will.”
OUCH! God uses us to do his work on earth, but we are not the end-all-be-all for him. If we don’t follow his commands, he will find someone who will. His will is going to be accomplished. The question is do we want to be a part of it? And if the Samaritan man – if people who don’t know the Lord as their savior – are just as compassionate as those who do, what does that say about the church?
We need to do better. Who is our neighbor? It’s the whosoever.
Check out this easy craft that goes with this devotion: https://www.craftymorning.com/puzzle-piece-valentine-craft/