This week on the blog we’ve been examining the parable of the Good Samaritan. On Wednesday we considered the main point of the parable, to expose our sinful failure to love as we ought. Thursday, we explored the Good News that Jesus has loved us with a love that far excels even the love of the Samaritan.
But there’s one more lesson we should learn from this story. After all, Jesus is telling a story to illustrate what it looks like to fulfill the second greatest commandment. Therefore, if you’re a Christian, you must love your neighbor like this. Consider the following from 1 John 4:7-8, 20-21—Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. . . . If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
Consider the following five questions to ask yourself if you’re loving your neighbor the way Jesus demands in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Who are you near?
The word neighbor literally means “one who is near.” The Good Samaritan isn’t a social justice warrior, scanning the Jericho road looking for injustices to fight against. He’s a traveler who happens to come across a needy neighbor.
Who are you near? This might include people that live in your neighborhood, co-workers, friends, family, people you regularly interact with, or more. This does not necessarily mean geographical proximity. For example, my sister lives 6 hours away in West Virginia, but I have a greater responsibility to be a neighbor to her than most of the 178,000 people who live in her county. Why? Because most of them will never interact with her.
What do you see?
Remember the definition of biblical justice we’ve used in this series: Conformity to God’s moral standards as revealed in Scripture (1) by giving all humans their due as image-bearers of God, especially the most vulnerable and (2) by impartially rendering judgment, righting wrongs and punishing lawbreakers. This is not a command for every Christian to remedy every injustice. Instead, what needs do you see near you?
In their book What is the Mission of the Church?, Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert talk about the Principle of Moral Proximity. They explain it like this: “the closer the need, the greater the moral obligation to help.”[i] They illustrate this principle using two passages of Scripture.
In James 2:15-17 followers of Jesus are compelled to help those in need: If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Yet in 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul doesn’t command the Corinthians to give to meet the needs of the poverty-stricken Jerusalem church. He invites them to help. What’s the difference? The closer the need, the greater the moral obligation to help. What needs do you see near you? How might God be calling you to help?
What do you feel?
We’re not sure what the Levite and the priest felt. Maybe they felt superior. Maybe they felt the man on the side of the road got what he deserved. Maybe they felt pity, but unable to help. Maybe they felt guilty. Maybe they felt scared, because helping this man could’ve endangered them.
We do know what the Samaritan felt. He felt compassion. He gave what was in himself before he gave anything external to himself. He gave out of his heart.
At the Lausanne missions gathering in 2010, John Piper said, “we should care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.”[ii] Piper was careful to say care not necessarily do. Christians cannot do something about all suffering. The problems are just too great for any one of us. But we should care about all suffering. The heart that doesn’t care about suffering is a heart that’s hardened.
Do you feel compassion when you see suffering? If not, move closer. It’s significant that the priest and the Levite move away from the hurting. Why? Because it’s hard to hate up close.
What do you have?
The Good Samaritan doesn’t start an activist campaign to bring justice to the robbers on the roadside (although that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing). He used what he had to help how he could. What did he have? Oil, wine, bandages, donkey, time, money (but even that was limited because he only gives two denarii). All of it was available to give to the man in need.
What do you have that could help the vulnerable around you? Time? Money? Gifts? Talents? Passions? Influence? If you want to love your neighbor as yourself you must use what you have to help how you can.
What will you do?
Jesus concludes the parable of the Good Samaritan by telling the lawyer, “You go, and do likewise.” You are not called to respond to every injustice. The closer the need, the greater the obligation to help. But you and I can and should do something!
Years ago, my family was traveling on a vacation somewhere when we stopped to fill up our fifteen-passenger van with gasoline. A family member (who shall remain nameless) wasn’t paying attention and filled up the vehicle with diesel fuel. It doesn’t matter how much fuel you put into a vehicle. If it’s the wrong kind of fuel you won’t get very far.
The same is true as we seek to love our neighbors as ourselves. If you seek to love like the Good Samaritan loved, you better have the right fuel, or you’ll quickly burn out. Guilt won’t get you very far. Neither will grit. The only fuel that lasts is grace.
[i] Kevin Deyoung and Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? : Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 183.
[ii] As quoted by Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 49.