The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most beloved and oft quoted stories in the Bible. It is both an encouragement and sets the bar for loving others. It is a source of authority for teaching others to love like Jesus. Sadly, love is often taught as a goal in itself with this story. Such teaching ignores the context of Scripture and the purpose wherein Jesus told it.
Jesus teaches this parable to a lawyer who wants to know how to receive eternal life. The parable was the answer to the legal expert’s follow-up question, “Who is my neighbor?” Loving everyone God puts in our path is not the main point of Jesus’ teaching; important? Yes! But, it was not the main point.
The key to Jesus’ dialogue was how to receive eternal life. The teacher of Ecclesiastes mirrors our own soul’s groaning that if this physical world is all there is life is meaningless. If there is not the possibility of something more, something better, we should just eat, drink and die. However, if there is a greater significance and joy to be had, the expert in the law wanted to know what he needed to do to receive it.
Jesus assured his inquiring mind he had the correct answer. The lawyer quoted from Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19, when in Luke 10 “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 neighbor as yourself.” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
Knowing how to properly love one’s neighbor is possible only when one knows how to properly love God. He must be loved not as one of many, but as LORD; supreme to every other love in life. “Whoever lives in love lives in God” it says in 1 John 4. Love is not just touchy feely. The Apostle Peter taught in his first letter that godly love is self-controlled, mirrors the essence and actions of God, and does not conform to the evil desires resident in every human heart. This is not a recipe for self-help, but abandonment to self in the pursuit of a love relationship with God the Father through Christ the Son in the power of the God the Holy Spirit.
Loving the stranger through a one time or temporary humanitarian relief effort is commendable. Jesus taught those desiring eternal life to invest in the stranger until they can take care of themselves. The Good Samaritan modeled this by returning again and again with help that’s really needed, under their direction, until they can be self-sufficient, strong and healthy.
If you want to make a difference in a life, love them where they are as they are. If you want to make an eternal difference in a life, love them like God loves us. Love without restriction. Love enough to lead by example. Through the power of the Holy Spirit call what God calls sin, i.e. wrong-doing, sin and reject it. The Ten Commandments are a good place to begin. “Do this and you will live.”