Summary: Equally as difficult in loving God is learning what it means to love our neighbor as a disciple of Jesus Christ. This sermon reflects on both the greatest commandment as well as the parable of the Good Samaritan
All You Need is Love:
Loving Others: The Greatest Commandment, Part 2
Mark 12: 28 – 34
We spent last week looking at what it means to love God. Hopefully, we discovered that we love what we’re passionate about, and that to love God is to desire Him, to devote ourselves to Him, and to discipline our lives to be with him through windows of grace like prayer, fasting, bible study, worship and others. Desire, devotion and discipline must become tangible actions, for there remains the truth that we cannot love God unless we love others. I think that’s why Jesus would say in Mark’s Gospel that loving our neighbor is “equally as important” as loving God. It’s also why this lawyer would include it in his response to Jesus’ question. The two are eternally woven.
The starting place for our conversation is that we love ourselves. We’ll make the assumption that we do, otherwise, that fact is too weighty an issue to deal with in this message. You won’t love others properly until you love yourself. Regardless, we are commanded to love others. Let’s make that our focus today. To do so, I want to call your attention to a story Jesus told about neighbors. It too, was told in response to a lawyer’s question. What is it with these lawyer’s and their questions?
We know the story as the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s in Luke’s gospel, chapter 10, verses 29 – 37. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells the story to a lawyer who wanted to know how to receive eternal life, and he answered his own question with a reciting of the Jewish Shema of Deuteronomy 6 we read last week—“love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.” Then, he adds, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke adds in verse 29 that the lawyer wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” He wanted to justify himself. After all, you really can’t expect me to love everyone, now can you? If we want to justify what we do, we can simply define people and circumstances using our own definition and thereby absolve ourselves from any guilt for not doing what we knew we should do, or for doing something we knew we shouldn’t. We’ve all got a little bit of lawyer in us.
Now, the story: Jesus said a Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho and was attacked by bandits. They beat him up, stripped him and left him for dead beside the road. We could stop right there and say the man had no business going from Jerusalem to Jericho alone. It was a road known to be frequented by bandits. See, it was the man’s own fault. He should have been smarter. He took a risk and the risk didn’t pay off. Certainly, that’s what those who stood around Jesus listening that day would have thought initially. It’s the man’s own fault. How often have we seen someone broken and beat up by life, and we thought, “Well, they made an unwise decision. They made their bed, now they have to sleep in it?” Probably, much too often.
Jesus continued the story by saying first a Jewish priest came along, but saw the man and passed by on the other side of the road. Next, a Levite (or Temple assistant) came by, and likewise went around the man on the other side of the road. The good Jews listening to the story would have said, “Yup. That’s what I would have done.” Neither a priest nor a Levite could sully themselves with the blood of a beaten man. It would have rendered them unclean and they would not be fit for service in the Temple. They would have to go through a long, drawn-out cleansing process, and it simply was not worth the effort. They made a prioritized decision. They had more pressing business to which to attend.
Then, Jesus says, a dreaded (don’t you like the use of that word?) Samaritan came by. Jesus is setting his listeners up, and he’s also setting up this lawyer. Samaritan’s were hated by Jews, and any Jew, if he was a good Jew, wouldn’t want a Samaritan to help even if they were lying in a ditch dying. That’s exactly what the listeners and the lawyer are thinking, but Jesus’ story reminds us our neighbor isn’t necessarily who we think it is. So, this Samaritan sees the man, and Jesus says, “he felt deep pity.” So, the Samaritan kneels, soothes and bandages the wounds. He puts the man on his donkey, takes him to an inn and cares for him. The next day, he offers the innkeeper money to take care of the man. He does, after all, have to go on about his business, but he tells the innkeeper, “if you have any other expenses beyond what I’ve paid you, when I come back, I’ll settle up with you.”