Authored by Marie Story
Jesus gave us a simple command: “Love your neighbor.”1 However, “neighbor” is pretty vague, and perhaps thinking to excuse himself, some wise guy asked Jesus, “But who is my neighbor?”2 Jesus answered with the story about a traveler on the way to Jericho, who was ambushed by thieves, beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Two people passed him by but didn’t want to get involved, each making an excuse to avoid stopping to help.3
I can speculate on what each might have been thinking as he passed that poor guy on the side of the road.
The first is a priest. Dressed in his finest synagogue robes, perhaps he is working on a sermon he plans to give later in the day. His mind is full of his own importance, he meditates on the law, and congratulates himself on following it to the letter.
Perhaps the priest is taken aback when he sees the bleeding man on the road. The man’s clothes are torn and dirtied, so it’s hard to determine his social standing. The priest takes a step closer, but doesn’t recognize the man. Maybe he tells himself he can’t afford to be late, he can’t afford to get his good clothes dirty, and at that, his mind is made up. He averts his eyes and passes by on the other side of the road.
The sun climbs higher in the sky, and buzzards begin to circle overhead. In the heat of the day, a Levite comes along. He, too, was hurrying along, his mind racing as he planned out his day’s business in Jericho. Then he stumbles upon the beaten traveler, not looking any better for the high-noon heat.
Immediately the Levite starts worrying about the thieves returning; maybe he was carrying a lot of money and feared being robbed as well. So the Levite passes on by.
The poor traveler, weak and dying, is ready to give up hope. Another hour passes before the next person comes along. This time, however, the wounded man doesn’t even have hope that he will stop. You see, the man coming along the road is a Samaritan.
There was no love lost between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Jews despised the Samaritans, and for centuries had cursed and maligned them. Though their cultures were similar and the Samaritans professed the same faith, they were considered second-rate, not worthy to be part of the Jewish nation. At times, Samaritans were cursed in the Jewish synagogues, they could not serve as witnesses in court, and according to the Jews, the Samaritans were excluded from the afterlife.
For all these reasons, our poor Jewish traveler doesn’t imagine that a Samaritan would even consider stopping to help, not when both a leader of his faith and a leader of his community wouldn’t.
The Samaritan also has places to go and things to do. Perhaps his family is depending on the business to be conducted that day. Perhaps he has an appointment to be on time for.
When you think about it, the Samaritan had the best excuse for not stopping. But he did. He stopped, tended to the wounded man, and carried him on his own donkey to the nearest inn, where he could be cared for until he recovered. But he went even further than that. He took two silver coins from his own purse and paid the innkeeper for the wounded man’s care, then said, “If it’s not enough, I’ll pay the rest on my way back.”
The Samaritan didn’t stop “loving his neighbor” when it got difficult, or when it was inconvenient, or when it cost him something personally.
He “loved his enemy.”4 He looked past the years of fighting and reached out to help a man in need. He loved anyway.
He “blessed those that cursed him.”5 He chose to ignore the offenses and unkind words and loved anyway.
He “did good to those who had mistreated him.”6 Despite being treated poorly, despite being looked down on, he loved anyway.
How many of us would do the same?
I think it’s often easy to feel justified in not loving. We can tend to feel that we only have so much love to give, and when we’re reaching our limit we’re only able to dispense a little bit of love. That’s human love. We just don’t have enough love on our own.
In telling this story, Jesus basically took away any excuses we might make for not loving others. He was telling us that our neighbor is not just the person who lives next door to us, but it’s anyone we encounter who is in need. Jesus wasn’t saying, “Love your neighbor, but only if he’s not too weird.” He wasn’t saying, “Love your neighbor, but only until she gossips about you.” He wasn’t saying, “Love your neighbors only if you like how they look, or if you’d like to have them in your circle of friends.”
“Love your neighbor,” Jesus says. Full stop. No “ifs,” no excuses.
He was telling us to love beyond the little difficulties in our lives.—To love and not be choosy or partial. To love even if we’ve been hurt or mistreated—because that’s the way He loves. And the only way to love like Jesus does is to have His love inside of us. His love never runs out and is available for refills whenever needed.
Remember too that Jesus gives us His love freely. He doesn’t expect perfection and He doesn’t withhold His love from us when we don’t deserve it. We can all be difficult at times, yet He forgives us each time and keeps loving us regardless. Just as we freely receive Jesus’ love, we should freely give it.7
1 Matthew 19:19 NIV.
2 Luke 10:29.
3 Luke 10:25–37.
4 Luke 6:35; Matthew 5:44.
5 Luke 6:28.
6 Matthew 5:44.
7 Matthew 10:8.
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright © 2012 by The Family International