In our pursuit of what it means to love what God loves and hate what He hates, we have discovered that loving our enemies is not about being infinitely nice, but about representing God’s character, in this case, His mercy. And we have found that the plan is not make the world like us so much that everyone wants to become a Christian, but to validate our message with a unique unity among believers, borne out of love. More needs to be said on this last point, but we will get to it in due time.
In the meantime, doesn’t Jesus’ story of The Good Samaritan indicate that we should generally be loving to everyone we can? The short answer is, “Yes.” But I think the model presented is somewhat different than the efforts we see carried out in the name of redeeming our culture.
Let’s begin by considering the situation that prompted Jesus to tell the story. In Luke 10:25, an expert in Hebrew (Old Testament) Law sets out to test Jesus by asking how to inherit eternal life. This is effectively the same question dealt with in the Sermon on the Mount — What level of righteousness is required?
Jesus turns the question back on this lawyer. “What does the Law say?” The lawyer replies, “Love God with all your being, and your neighbor as yourself”, which summarized the whole Law. In effect, the lawyer’s answer was “keep the Law perfectly”. Jesus responds by affirming that the full righteousness mandated by the Law is required, just as in the Sermon on the Mount.
Now the lawyer feels the need to justify himself (Luke 10:29). He knew he didn’t measure up to the requirements of the Law, particularly in how he treated others. How to deal with such inadequacy? Redefine “neighbor” so that it only applies to a narrow group of lovable people. To that end, the lawyer asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” As an answer, Jesus holds up the Good Samaritan.
The story is familiar. A man is beaten by robbers in the wilderness on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho, and left for dead. The cream of the crop of Jewish religious leaders – a priest and a Levite – both go out of their way to avoid him. Then a despised half-breed – a Samaritan, comes along, renders first-aid, transports the victim to a place where he can be cared for, and assumes responsibility for all the costs to get him back on his feet.
Again, Jesus puts the question back on the lawyer – “Which one of these proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robber’s hands?” Take careful note of the lawyer’s answer – “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Where have we seen that before? Yep, the “love your enemy” part of the Sermon on the Mount.
Now, it’s tempting to go right to application and identify ethical principles based on the story. But before you do that, let me ask you a question. What was the issue that prompted the story? Stop for just a minute, and get that clear in your mind.
Now then, how does the story answer that question?
The question was, “Who do I have to love to fulfill the requirement of the Law and inherit eternal life?” The answer – “Everyone that you have the opportunity to show mercy to.”
Why did the lawyer raise the question? Because he wanted to justify himself. Did he succeed? He did not. Just like we saw in the Sermon on the Mount, if you want to inherit eternal life, it will require righteousness equal to God’s, that is, we have to look like God and manifest His character.
Now, even if we take just one of His attributes – say, mercy, we fail miserably. Because it is not enough to do it just one time, as the Samaritan did. He serves as an example of what it looks like to love your neighbor. But he is not the standard. The Law is. And one failure is enough to condemn us. So, even if we were to start today with the mission to show mercy to everyone we meet, and if we were able to do that flawlessly, we are doomed. Because of past failures. Which is why the imputed righteousness of Christ, received through faith is so awesome, and so crucial.
Does that mean that we can’t learn about how we can practically express God’s mercy through the story of the Good Samaritan. I think we can. We’ll look at that in Part 2.