A Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. (Luke 10:33)
Joel C. Seifert
“And who is my neighbor?”
A religious expert asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus told him to love God and his neighbor, he asked, “And who is my neighbor?” His question showed that he still wanted to do something to be worthy of eternal life. He wasn’t even close.
So Jesus tells the parable we call the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). A man traveling down the road from Jerusalem falls into the hands of robbers who strip him of his clothes and beat him, leaving him to die alone. An unlikely foreigner comes along and shows selfless love to a stranger, even when it put him in harm’s way, even when the most outwardly religious people passed by uncaring. It’s a simple story with a simple point: Love helps whoever is in need. How could this expert love like that?
Love brings us close to our fellow man
A subtle detail helps us understand love better.
There’s a progression in Jesus’ story that stands out in the original Greek: The priest went down the same road. The Levite came to the place. The Samaritan came to the man.
There’s a connection between love and proximity. When love isn’t there, it’s easier to stand at a distance and tell ourselves there’s no real need for help, that we’re not the right ones to help, or that helping is someone else’s responsibility. The world is full of people whom we can find every reason to keep at arm’s length—the criminal sitting in his cell, the atheist who mocks our faith, the poor and homeless in our community. But love goes right to the man.
That strikes right at the “expert in the law” and at us too. It condemns the times we stood at arms distance from someone in need, telling ourselves we don’t need to love them. Such love cannot inherit eternal life, because it is impossible for us unless God first loves us.
Love is found in the God who draws close to us
The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. We remember that this world is a present evil age and that we fallen people have hearts turned away from the God who made us. Yet at Lent we see the most unbelievable thing: the holy Son of God here in this world, traveling up the road to Jerusalem so that a band of wicked men might surround him, strip him of his clothes, and beat him to the point of death.
We don’t mourn at the tragedy. Instead we praise God because we know what’s happening. In Christ, God has come close to his fallen creatures. Close enough to see our hurt and feel our pain. Close enough to be mocked and beaten. He came right “to [us]” so he could bear our sins and die our death. He came close enough to love us.
At the end of his story, Jesus told the expert in the law, “Go and do likewise.” How? Not by following rules and directions to love others, but by knowing the One who loves us. The love of God changes us. We love not to earn eternal life. We already have eternal life by grace and are children of God’s grace. When we see the pain of others we love “with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18).
Author: Joel C. Seifert
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019