So when you say, “love your neighbor,” you don’t mean HIM . . . right?

“And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your hear and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.'” Luke 10:27

What does the phrase “Good Samaritan” bring to mind? A nice person? A children’s story? The title of a sermon? While the story of the Good Samaritan has developed that connotation through centuries of teaching and retelling, it was meant to be a very serious illustration.

You see, in Jesus’ day, stories were not just meant for entertainment as they are in our culture. Stories were often a medium for spiritual or moral instruction, both for the educated and the common man. The recipient of the Good Samaritan parable was of the former category. He was, in fact, an expert in the law. This man was so intelligent and so knowledgeable in the Jewish law that he decided to put Jesus to the test and try to make him look like a fool.

He must have been ready to strike down whatever answer Jesus gave to the question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” But Jesus threw him for a loop by asking him a question. “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” The man’s training didn’t fail him at this point. He gave the perfect answer, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. Then Jesus did the last thing this “law expert” expected. He agreed with him! “Do this and you will live.”

Frustrated that Jesus had managed to end the debate before it began, the man asked another question. “And who is my neighbor?” You may think this was a dumb question. That this great man must have really been grasping at straws. But it was actually fairly legitimate. The word neighbor in Hebrew meant more than someone who lives near you. It could be translated as a companion, friend, or associate and was used in a variety of contexts. It was fair for the law expert to ask, “Who am I really supposed to love?”

But once again, Jesus didn’t give him a straightforward answer. Instead, he told a story:

A Jew was walking along a busy street, minding his own business, when he was suddenly attacked and robbed. Naked and bleeding, left for dead in the gutter, several people passed him by. Even those who were considered religious were too busy to stop. But then finally a Samaritan, someone who was supposed to be his enemy, stopped. These two men had no business even talking to each other because of their cultural differences. But disregarding this social rule, the Samaritan tended to his injuries and set him up with a place to stay.

Jesus concludes his parable with another question. “Who do you think was a neighbor to the man who was robbed?” He turns the man’s question on its head, as if to say, “You’re asking the wrong question! Instead of asking who am I obligated to love, ask how can I be loving to those around me. The man lying in the gutter was basically the farthest from a neighbor the Samaritan could find. He had no connection to that man. He didn’t know his name. They weren’t even the same nationality! But nevertheless, the man was in need, and the Samaritan chose to see him as a neighbor.

I hope this changes your understanding of the command to love your neighbor. If you look around, you should see people lining the gutters of your neighborhood. People who have been mistreated, stepped on, and abandoned by the world. These are not the people anyone naturally feels love toward. In fact, they may seem like the most unlovable people you can find. But God commands us to love them just as we love ourselves. The magnitude of such a commandment is completely overwhelming. It’s not possible to love everyone! But with God all things are possible. That’s what is so awesome about this story. That it requires us to depend on the Holy Spirit to fulfill the command of God.

May He give you strength to love those around you with the love of God.

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