by Phillip Brown
When the Pharisee challenged Jesus and asked Him “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matt 22:36), Jesus responded with two of the most often quoted teachings from the New Testament. He said,
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.’” (Matthew 22:37-40)
There seems to be little question about what Jesus meant when He told us to love God. His instruction on that was thorough and made it clear that our love for the Father is supposed to be all encompassing. But it may not always be so clear as to what exactly it means to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Action and Inaction
To try and get a better handle on what it might mean to love your neighbour let us turn to the parable of the Good Samaritan and the events leading up to it. For the sake of context it will help to see the whole passage. Here is what the text says,
“‘And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered, ‘You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.’ And He said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.’ But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied and said, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ ‘Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?’ And he said, ‘The one who showed mercy toward him.’ Then Jesus said to him,‘Go and do the same.’” (Luke 10:25-37)
I will break down what, in this passage, is most important to this discussion. Verses 31 and 32 speak clearly of inaction on the part of the priest and the Levite respectively. These were people who you might say were fellow countrymen of the beaten and stripped man. This is evidenced from the fact that he was from Jerusalem. So even his own people would not help him. This is an obvious example of how not to love one’s neighbour.
In verses 33-35, we see that the Samaritan’s behaviour was the polar opposite of that of the beaten man’s countryman. The Samaritan not only stopped to see what was wrong, he bandaged the beaten man, nursed him, and ensured that he had lodging. This is an example of action. The Samaritan was in a position to help the beaten man and he put pause on his own journey to provide the man with what was needed in order to preserve his life. The point of the parable is made clear in verse 37. In asking who proved to be a neighbour, Jesus was telling the lawyer that the Samaritan, because he took action and helped the beaten man, was indeed an example of what it means to be a neighbour.
Moved By Compassion
Now what makes the parable even more impactful is the fact that it was a Samaritan who helped the man from Jerusalem. It is known that at that time there was a great deal of friction between the Jews and the Samaritans. The two groups are often characterized as enemies of one another. So a Samaritan coming to the aid of a Jew would have been seen as, for lack of other words, kind of a big deal. And that is indeed an important lesson. But what might be overlooked in the passage because of all of that is that Jesus said the Samaritan felt compassion. This is a key component in the parable because it reflects that mirror image of loving God and your neighbour. There are a number of occasions where Scripture tells us that God feels compassion for His people, for example Deuteronomy 13:17, Lamentations 3:32, Zechariah 10:6, and Hosea 11:8-9.
My point in speaking about compassion is twofold. In the first place, I think that it is important to see the link between compassion and action. The Samaritan was moved by compassion for the beaten man and that compassion drove him to act. It is clear that compassion and action are related in some way. Secondly, that mirroring of love for God and for each other highlights the relationship between God’s compassion for us and our having compassion for one another. If Genesis 1:27 is correct in that we are made in God’s image, it seems reasonable, then, to assert that the compassion that we have for one another -that which is demonstrated in the parable of the good Samaritan- is a reflection of the compassion that God has for us. And that compassion is directly liked to action.
Christian Action As an apologetic for Christianity
What all of this points to is what I call Christian action. The Samaritan’s behaviour exemplifies how we as Christians should respond when we see someone in need and have the ability to help. In other words, the parable in question instructs us on what to do when we have the opportunity to act. When Jesus said “Go and do the same” (Luke 10:37), he was telling the Lawyer not just what a neighbour is, or how to be one, but also that action is what He expects from us. And action is a powerful apologetic for Christianity. When others see Christian action, they may well be motivated to find out why someone would demonstrate such compassion. And that is your opportunity to tell them that that is what Jesus taught us to do.
The Covid-19 pandemic is a massive opportunity for Christians to take action and reflect God’s compassion for us on one another. One does not need to make a large display of it, or travel long distances to act. It is likely that each of us has people in our own community who are in need. Quietly offering to help someone you may notice suffering, or even simply checking in on friends and family to make sure that those who may be feeling the impact of being isolated for so long are aware that they are not alone are easy ways to demonstrate Christian action. Your neighbours are all around you and it does not take much to demonstrate what loving your neighbour really means.