Christian Character: Love

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…” Thus begins what is probably the most famous parable in the entire ministry of Jesus. The Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us so many things, but above everything else it teaches us what love really looks like. It teaches us that how you treat your fellow man matters. It teaches us that what matters is not the color of a man’s skin, but rather that he is created in the image of God.

Jesus gives this parable in answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?” The lawyer who asked the question was trying to justify himself. He knew that God commanded him to love his neighbor intellectually, but apparently he was lacking experientially. He knew the command, but it doesn’t seem as if he was practicing it himself. This lawyer reflects so many people throughout human history. They know to do good, but they just aren’t doing it.

Jesus’ parable is the perfect example of what being a Christian looks like. It covers a few different themes such as: compassion for your neighbor, hypocrisy within the leadership of Israel, and even prejudice. The interesting thing is that Jesus connects “your neighbor” with the most extreme example in Israel at that time. The hero of his story is a Samaritan, a man who many religious Jews would have considered to be worse than the Romans.

The Jews and the Samaritans hated each other. Their history is complex, and we don’t have enough space to cover it all here. I will give just a brief background. It started when the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyria. They essentially blended with the Assyrians and became Samaritans. The southern kingdom of Judah was subsequently conquered by Babylon, but they managed to maintain their identity. The Jews saw the Samaritans as compromisers and traitors, and that’s why there was so much friction between them.

So what does Jesus do? He does what he did throughout his entire ministry. He gives an example that challenges, and probably even angers his audience. He ultimately challenges the lawyer’s love for God by telling him that he doesn’t even really love his neighbor, because his neighbor is not his Jewish friend or fellow teacher. His real neighbor is the Samaritan that he won’t even look at if they happen to cross paths.

How does this apply today? The real question is, how can it possibly NOT apply today? Here we are two thousand years later, and not much has changed. There is so much animosity and anger in the world, and it all has to do with people not properly applying the message of Jesus in this and other parables. Mostly, they ignore the life of Jesus himself, which radiated the love of God. Most people in America today can’t accurately tell you anything about Jesus, and I would say that’s probably the case in most other Western countries.

I recently saw a bus campaign that angered me. It said “Love your neighbor, wear a mask.” It didn’t necessarily anger me because of its political and social message of compliance (although that was part of it), but because it was using a story from the Bible to support its political view. It also took that story completely out of context and when the Bible is taken out of context it can support all kinds of weird and wacky views.

You see, the purpose of Jesus’ parable was not masks or compliance. The real message of this parable was to show us that true love is not connected to a skin color, political affiliation, social background, or cultural heritage. True love is connected to how you treat EVERYONE. You can say that you love God all you want, but if you really love God you will love his entire creation, not just the people that you deem worthy. The most famous verse in the entire Bible puts it perfectly. “God so loved the world…”

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