Luke 10:25-29. 25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “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.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
You’ll never be able to love until you realize that you’ll never be able to love.
That is the point of Jesus’ conversation with this lawyer (Bible expert) and the “Good Samaritan” story that follows.
Notice that the lawyer comes testing Jesus. In Jesus’ day there was no such thing as a genuine question. Honor and shame were earned and lost in the verbal battles that took place in the public arena (sort of like Facebook for us). This man wants to make Jesus look bad.
Notice also that the lawyer is, naturally, assuming that eternal life comes from law keeping, from doing – what must I do to inherit eternal life?
After returning the insult (“you’re the lawyer…what does the law say?”), Jesus and the man agree that the path to eternal life comes through love. Love God. Love neighbor. Do this and you will live.
But then the lawyer, seeking to justify himself, asks the fatal question – And who is my neighbor?
He should have left it alone. The Jews already had a fine working definition of “neighbor.” A neighbor is anyone that is in their IN group. Anyone like them. Your neighbor is definitely not your enemy (Gentiles, tax collectors, various sinners, etc.). And it’s not even the people that are sort of neutral (other Jews that are of a differing social class or community). “Neighbor” was self-defined, and this limited definition of neighbor allowed this law expert to self-justify. By limiting the law, he could obey the law.
But here’s the catch. Believing we can learn to love by limiting who we love, means we will never really love. Not unconditionally. Not fully. Not with a pure heart. It will always only be selfish and self-righteous.
Do you remember what we said at the beginning? You’ll never be able to love until you realize that you’ll never be able to love. This is why Jesus’ ending to the Good Samaritan story is so devastating – You go, and do likewise (Luke 10:37.
Many have turned this into a morality lesson. “Be like the Good Samaritan.” That is the big take away from the story.
But that’s not Jesus’ point at all.
His point is that without first experiencing the love of the ultimate Good Samaritan, you will never, ever act like the Good Samaritan. If your love remains your source of self-justification, of proving your worthiness, then you will never love. Unless you see yourself as the helpless, beaten man in the street. The one left for dead. The one that the law and religion (the Priest and the Levite) could never help. And until you see Jesus as the selfless Neighbor who had compassion on you, picked you up, bound your wounds, gave you wine and oil (life) and paid for your care at great cost to himself, you will never learn to love. You’ll never be a neighbor.
“To live is Christ” is to be under the care of the ultimate Good Samaritan – Jesus. Just as the Good Samaritan joined his life to this beaten man, caring for him, raising him up, loving him unconditionally without expectation or demand, Jesus Christ has done the same for us by giving us his indwelling life. He has covered us with his oil (the Spirit’s life) and filled us with his wine (his own life).
Like the Good Samaritan, Jesus has loved us first, he has loved us fully, and he has loved us freely.
Now we can admit that we don’t love. Now we can stop presenting our love as our means of merit. Now we can admit that we will never be the neighbors God has asked us to be. We will never be Good Samaritans.
And once we have realized our inability to love and received the unconditional love of the ultimate Good Samaritan, then and only then can we go and do likewise. Only then can we truly love another. Even an enemy.
Are you using your ability to “love” to justify yourself? Prove your worth?
You in Christ
How has the ultimate Good Samaritan loved you in your helplessness?
Christ in you
How can you spend time today receiving the love of Christ so as to then show the love of Christ?
Playlist: The Kindness of Jesus