If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the lord shall reward thee (Prov. 25:21-22).
Unselfishly, unreservedly, unconditionally . . . this is how God loves. A Jewish lawyer once asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus, in his reply, instead answered the question, “Who is he who loves as God commanded?” The lawyer was brought to a point of self-realization— the “Aha!” feeling we experience when our eyes are opened to the personal application of some spiritual truth. Perhaps we can find some enlightenment through the parable Jesus shared.
In Luke 10:25-35 we read the account of the “Good Samaritan.” The scenario begins with a man who is molested by thieves while traveling from Jerusalem (the main worship center for the Jews) to Jericho (a headquarters of sorts for priests and Levites). This road, known by the Romans as the “red and bloody way,” was an 18-mile stretch often frequented by robbers. This Jewish man was beaten, robbed, and left for dead. While he lay unconscious, two Jewish religious leaders happened upon him. Both the priest and the Levite took notice of him, evaluated his condition, and crossed to the other side of the road and continued on their journey.
Why did both of these men demonstrate such appalling disregard for another human being? Perhaps they were concerned for their own safety on that treacherous path. It could be they assumed the man was beyond help. Maybe they had appointments to meet at the temple and didn’t want to be late. Or possibly the prospect of being inconvenienced by being made “unclean” was a factor. But didn’t the law command better treatment than this for an animal belonging to a brother, or even to one’s enemy (Deut. 22:4; Ex. 23:4, 5)? Such blatant neglect for a fellow Jew was contemptible.
As irony would have it, a Samaritan gentleman happened along the way. Historically, the Samaritans and the Jews had no dealings with one another (John 4:9). The Samaritans were despised by the Jews because of their mixed Gentile blood and for their different worship, which was centered at Mt. Gerizim. This individual, in spite of this stigma, “came where he was” instead of just observing from a distance, then he “bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” He wasted no time tending to the needs of the man. He did not pause to consider whether this Jew would do the same for him. He simply and spontaneously helped. He esteemed another better than himself (Phil. 2:3) and, after using some “home remedies” of the day, he chose to walk and let the wounded man ride his beast. He then took him to a place of safety and stayed the night with him, setting aside his own plans. Verse 35 tells us that he paid the innkeeper what would have been equivalent to two days’ wages to cover costs and also pledged to “foot the bill” for anything further that was spent. His compassion was manifested in a most excellent and unselfish manner.
Now Jesus draws an application from the story. The lawyer is expecting an answer to his question, “Who am I to love?” Instead, the conclusion Jesus brings defines the person who loves in a godly fashion. This scholar was very familiar with the particulars of the law, accurately quoting a combination of Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 (Luke 10:27). He knew what the law said, but the performance of it in an unconditional, unselfish, and unbiased manner was something else. The Lord Jesus knew that the Jews did not consider Gentiles, especially Samaritans, their “neighbors.” In His infinite wisdom, He forces the lawyer to admit that it was not the Jewish leaders in this example who were eager to demonstrate agape love toward their fellow Jew. Rather, it was one who would be considered an inferior, an enemy. In replying to Jesus’ question, “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?” it seems the man cannot even bring himself to say the word “Samaritan.” Jesus carries the painful application a step further and admonishes, “Go, and do thou likewise”— be like this man whom you would despise. This prideful man is artfully and duly abased by this “Aha!” experience.
The type of loving that pleases God is not easily found in our society today. The Bible says in John:13:35, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” This is one of the earmarks of the believer—something that serves to set him apart in this world. There is an interesting progression in the art of loving God’s way that should not be overlooked. First, we are to love others as we love ourselves (Matt. 19:19). Secondly, we are told to love others more than we love ourselves (Phil. 2:3, 4). Finally, we are to love as God loves us (John 15:12).
What about you today? Do you demonstrate “Samaritan spontaneity” in your efforts to be “neighborly”? Do you first count the cost? Do you extend yourself in the most excellent way possible? Or do you do just enough to salve your conscience when another has a need? Are you willing to be inconvenienced or perhaps stretched financially? Do you reach out to those who seem “beyond help” or are not “your type” of people?
We are not told in this Scriptural account whether the lawyer took Jesus’ challenge to heart. Did he go away sorrowful and persistent in his ways as the rich young ruler in Matthew 19? Let us not go away from this powerful lesson unchanged. It has been said that the only things in this life which are eternal are God’s Word and people. May we live our lives each day as if we truly believed it.
Diane Heeney is a freelance writer living in Wyoming, where she supports her husband who is the pastor of a growing church.