What do you mean “Love”??                            Shirley K. Macemon

Luke 10:25-37                                                                                              July 11, 2010


25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He 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.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”


Although I don’t have statistics to prove it, I suspect that “the good Samaritan” is  the most widely recognized parable in the new testament.  I mean, you don’t often see  a hospital called “wheat and tares”, or a “ten bridesmaids” Methodist church. Or even a “prodigal son” car club.     Even the populace  in general has a passing knowledge of this one. 

The lawyer already knew the answer.  “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.” Jesus sits firmly in the tradition and wisdom of his people when he agrees and says, “Do this and you will live.” 

When I remember to read the setup before the parable I am reminded that Jesus points back to the foundational instruction for the Jewish people.  He doesn’t say “believe in me and live”, or “believe the historicity of the Apostles Creed” and live.  But, “do this, and live”.  “Do this” is about loving God, neighbor and self with everything we’ve got.    

But I am among the first to jump to “loving God” equals “doing social justice”.  That misses another point:  social justice is the “doing”  when we love God.   “Love God” is a state of being, not doing

William Loader, a blogger and theologian from Down Under,  says “‘Eternal life… focus is quality rather than quantity. It is sharing in God’s life.” The lawyer's question and its answer, are about how we are to live life now. They are about a new consciousness and dimension of life, or of being, not some future getting to heaven.  “If our image of God is loving and if our image of God’s live is the creative and redeeming out pouring of such love, then loving one’s neighbor is nothing less than  an invitation to participate in the life and being of God here and now, each and every day.

Several years ago a group of researchers conducted an experiment.  Seminary students were told that they had been selected to record a talk about the Good Samaritan.  The immediate issue was that the recording was to be done in a building on the other side of campus.  Because of the interviewer’s tight schedule the students would have to hurry to get there.  On the path across campus to the other building, the researchers planted an actor playing a sick homeless man slumped in an alley, coughing and suffering.  The excited students each hurried across campus for their important assignment.  As it turned out, almost none of them turned out to actually be Good Samaritans.  Almost all of them hurried past the suffering man.  One student even stepped over the man’s body as he rushed across campus to teach about the parable of the Good Samaritan![1]

The “passers-by” in Jesus story were not unlike the seminary students.  They saw compassion and mercy as one of a list of obligations in the service of God, a list that – as many of us know – is always over-full, requiring inevitable triage. 

The passers by and the seminary students alike were serious in their service of God.  Like me, and I daresay like many of you, they had too many things on their plates:  an assignment to complete, the opportunity to help someone else better understand scripture,  places to be, meetings to attend, parishioners to placate. Choices had to be made. In the context of God who’s being is love, loving one's neighbor as one's self sometimes needs to take its turn. It is one of a long list of commands we have to juggle.

In 2007, Wesley Autrey, a 50 year old construction worker was waiting with his two young daughters on the subway platform.  Nearby, a man collapsed.  Mr Autrey and two women rushed to help, but as the man struggled to his feet, he stumbled and fell to the tracks.  The lights of the oncoming train appeared.  In an instant, Autrey jumped after the man.  Clearly, they could not clear the oncoming train in time – even with the train’s brakes screeching.  Autrey pressed both their bodies between the tracks, flattening their bodies perhaps more than humanly possible.  The subway train screeched overhead – five cars passing overhead before the train finally stopped.  The clearance was such that Autrey’s cap had grease stains from the undercarriage of the train. 

Immediately, Wesley Autrey became a national hero.  People were astonished by his bravery and his selflessness.  He had no real reason to help this stranger.  He didn’t know the man.  He had two young daughters.  What he did was a severe risk to his own life.  But another was in desperate need and, moved with compassion, Autrey did what he could to save him.  Newspaper articles dubbed him everything fronm “The Subway Superman” to “Good Samaritan Saves Man on Subway Tracks.” (Newsday, January 2, 2007.) [2]

I don’t have any information on Autrey’s religious leanings.  But I can’t believe that he check his “to do” list of the day and realized that “risk life by saving man on subway tracks” was on the to-do list.  I suspect that he didn’t think – but acted out of a place in his being beyond rational thinking. 

Reading the parable in a context of “being” the kingdom of God, we are moved on from keeping a list of rules, or obligations that we must deal with to gain the Kingdom – eternal life.

But what if we read the Samaritan's story in the context of the hospitality of God, in the context of 'an invitation to participate in the life and being of God,' straight after mission of the seventy who were shown hospitality, and who gave hospitality by bringing peace upon the house where they stayed? Then the context changes. Everything changes. Kingdom comes from be-ing kingdom. That is, participating in the life and being of God happens by be-ing a part, not from keeping a list of rules. It is a mind set which is moved by the person and situation of our neighbour, rather than seeing them as an obligation, (or an opportunity) we must deal with to gain the kingdom.  It  puts us in the framework of mercy and compassion, not the framework of Law. 

We are talking about what drives and moves us. What is our center? One of the commentators I read this week tells of he and two of his companions being first on the scene of an automobile accident. The driver was bleeding profusely; dying perhaps. He was in absolute panic, and the two of were hard put to hold him down as they tried to stem the flow of blood, while their companion went for help.

After the ambulance left and the scene was quiet, there were grim questions about infection. To what had we been exposed in all that blood? Compassion tears off its shirt, and rips it to pieces in its hurry to save. It is uncalculated, costly, and dangerous. Obligation considers costs and risks.

That, I think, is what Jesus’ parable is really all about.  Jesus isn’t simply telling the lawyer to go imitate good works.  If Jesus merely wants us to go out and do as the Good Samaritan did, then we’re in trouble. We cannot simply decide to move ourselves to that level of compassion and selflessness.  We may know the right thing to do in any given situation, there’s no guarantee that we would (or could) actually do it.  Being a Good Samaritan takes more than a change of mind.  It takes a change of heart.

Where do these kinds of things come from?  I don’t think they come from just trying to imitate the works of the Good Samaritan.  They come from something deeper.  They come from God.  God’s compassion for us makes us compassionate.  God’s love for us makes us more loving to others.   Compassion awakens within us when we see the face of Christ in those around us.  We have compassion because our hearts have been changed, because in some real way, we are sharing in God’s life – in God’s love.  God loves us, not by remaining far off in high places, but by being a friend to those in low places.


Can we, like the lawyer, go and do likewise?



[1] (Darley, J. M., and Batson, C.D., “From Jerusalem to Jericho: A study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1973, 27, 100-108.)  http://reflectious.com/2010/07/06/luke-1025-37-friends-in-low-places/

[2] http://churchrewired.org/samaritan-story---luke.html