I love to read the interactions that Jesus had with people in the gospels. One that intrigues me is often called the story of the Good Samaritan and is found in Luke 10. In Jesus’ day, it was not unusual for rabbis to hold theological discussions in public places. In this account, a scribe who would have studied the Jewish law, asked Jesus the question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" This question was most likely a commonly debated question, but Jesus perceived the Scribe to be testing Him rather than seeking truth, so He simply turned the question back on the scribe. The scribe, knowing the law, answered his own question by quoting two commandments, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;" and "Love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus tells him he is right and that if he did these things he would live.
I don't know about you, but when I read those commandments, I can't even get past the first one without feeling strong conviction. I've wrestled long and hard with what it means to love the Lord with all that I am, and I fall short. When I compare my love for the Father to the love Jesus had for Him, my mind gravitates to the scene of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as He wrestles in prayer over His impending crucifixion where our shame and sin would be placed on Him, leaving Him to bear His Father's wrath for it. The Bible tells us that the struggle Christ experienced there, as He begged the Father to remove the cup of suffering from Him while desperately longing to do His will, caused Him so much angst that sweat tinged with blood poured from His pores. To be honest, I have never resisted sin to the point that I was shedding blood through my pores.
The scribe, on the other hand, glossed over the first commandment, asking for clarification of the second. Did he think he loved God so much he was above reproach? Or, did this indicate that in his heart of hearts he knew he was failing to love God well and deflected to the second command that seemed a bit more tangible? As he tried to engage Jesus in philosophical general discussion about who one's neighbors are, Jesus skillfully turned the discussion to a specific, practical discussion by telling him a parable.
The parable was about a man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho who was attacked by robbers who stripped him of his clothing, who beat him severely, and then left him dying on the side of the road. A priest walking down the same road saw him lying there and he crossed to the other side of the road so he would not have to see him up close and personal. Then, a Levite came by and did exactly the same thing. They may have been afraid for their own lives, they may have been on time schedules, they may have thought him too far gone to help, or they may have just been self-absorbed people who didn't want to be bothered. Soon, a Samaritan came by and took pity on the dying man and cleansed and bandaged his wounds. He then put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn and gave the innkeeper two days’ worth of his wages to pay for the man to stay, promising to reimburse the innkeeper for anything else the man might need. Jesus ended the parable by asking the scribe, who was a neighbor to the man in need? The scribe concluded that the one who had mercy on the dying man showed himself to be a neighbor and Christ, in agreement, told him to go and do likewise.
Our Jesus was not one to waste the words He spoke. He was intentional when He chose to make a Samaritan the hero of this parable. He knew, as a student of the law, the scribe would know that God required Jews to show mercy to both strangers and enemies (Ex. 23:4-5; Lev. 19:33-34; Micah 6:8). Yet, the Jews were known for their hatred of the Samaritans. This meant that the Samaritan in the parable was one who loved those who hated him. He was the one willing to sacrificially spend to provide for the welfare of a stranger without any hint that he expected to be repaid or even recognized for his good deeds. He was the one Jesus used to show us that one doesn't love because one is a neighbor, one becomes a neighbor because we love.
This parable definitely gives us a good picture of the love to which Jesus is calling us. But even more important, it describes the love Jesus has shown us. Before we believed, we were just like that man. We were broken and dying with no hope of saving ourselves. I love the words Paul penned to the Colossians that describe this, "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight without blemish and free from accusation." (Col. 1:21-22)
God has called us to love because there is power in love! It was love that compelled Christ to lay down His life for us. It was love that raised us from spiritual death to new life full of hope. It was love that reconciled us with our Creator, fulfilling our deepest longings to belong to a loving family. It was love that freed us from sin and its power over us. It was love that translated us from the dark kingdom ruled by sin and hate into a glorious kingdom ruled by love and holiness. Our love, whether demonstrated through words, actions, compassion or even restraint, also has the power to draw broken, dying people to the Savior who can transform, restore, and heal. There is power in love that is like no other power, because it can soften the hardest heart, making it tender and compassionate. It can change the stone-cold heart into a heart that beats with fierce passion. And it can take a fractured heart and suture the pieces back together in such a way that hope and joy and love flow with every beat of the heart. That is the power of love.