ultimate, radical neighbor-love

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One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”

The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.

“By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.

“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.

The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” (Luke 10:25-37)

Seeing yourself as the victim, not the rescuer

Teaching on this Luke 10 passage often centers around a “be like the Samaritan” moralism; we’re asked to view ourselves as the person of power who chooses whether or not to stop and help. For a moment, though, picture yourself as the victim, dying, unless a person who has every right to pass you by instead feels compassion and stops for you.

From Tim Keller:

One of the remarkable “twists” that Jesus gave to his parable was the placement of the Jewish man in the story.  Remember that Jesus was telling this story to a Jewish man, the law expert. What if Jesus had told the parable like this?

A Samaritan was beaten up and left half dead in a road. Then a Jewish man came along the road. He saw him and had compassion on him and ministered to him.

How would the law expert and his Jewish hearers have responded? They most likely would have said, “This is a ridiculous story! No self-respecting Jew would ever do such a thing. This is just what I suspected. You make unrealistic, outrageous demands on people.”

But instead, Jesus put a Jew in the road as the victim. In other words, he was asking each listener to imagine himself to be a victim of violence, dying, with no hope if this Samaritan did not stop and help. How would you want the Samaritan to act if that was your situation? Wouldn’t you want him to be a neighbor to you, across all racial and religious barriers? Of course you would. Jesus was saying something like this:

What if your only hope was to get ministry from someone who not only did not owe you any help — but who actually owed you the opposite? What if your only hope was to get free grace from someone who had every justification, based on your relationship to him, to trample you?

And so Jesus ended the story with a question: “Who was the neighbor to the man in the road?” The law expert must admit that it was “the one who showed mercy” (verse 37). He had to agree that, if he had been the needy man in the road, and had been offered neighbor-love from someone from whom he would have expected rejection, he would have nonetheless accepted it. It was only then that Jesus says: “Go and do likewise.” He had made his case, and the law expert had no rejoinder. Your neighbor is anyone in need.

But the law expert did not have the vantage point to see what we can see. According to the Bible, we are all like that man, dying in the road. Spiritually, we are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:5). But when Jesus came into our dangerous world, he came down our road. And though we had been his enemies, he was moved with compassion by our plight (Romans 5:10). He came to us and saved us, not merely at the risk of his life, as in the case of the Samaritan, but at the cost of his life. On the cross, he paid the debt we could never have paid ourselves. Jesus is the Great Samaritan to whom the Good Samaritan points.

Before you can give this neighbor-love, you need to receive it. Only if you see that you have been saved graciously by someone who owes you the opposite will you go out into the world looking to help absolutely anyone in need. Once we receive this ultimate, radical neighbor-love through Jesus, we can start to be the neighbors that the Bible calls us to be. (Tim Keller, Generous Justice, p.75-77)

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Painting: Parable of the Good Samaritan, Domenico Fetti, 1622

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About Jill

I'm a wife, mom to three beautiful children, and currently work at two jobs for which I'm very grateful -- part-time at my kids' school, and as children's ministry director at Redeemer PCA in Athens, GA, a place our family treasures as our church home. It's been thirty years since the Lord saved me, and to this day I'm astounded at His steadfast love shed upon unfaithful me. My hope would be that I might speak and write in ways God would use to soften hearts toward Him, that we would together be enamored by the glorious beauty of Jesus and awakened to His love unimagined. Thanks so much for reading!
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