Love God, Jesus said, but right on the heels of obeying that greatest command, love your neighbor as yourself. In another conversation, one of those questioning Jesus rightly answered that to fulfill the law a person needed to love his neighbor, but then he asked Jesus, who is my neighbor?
To answer, Jesus told a story, the one we know today as The Good Samaritan. In it, the one who acted like a neighbor was the person who responded to someone in need, regardless of religious or political standing.
“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 10:30-37)
A couple observations. The Samaritan didn’t think of himself first. He could have been walking into a trap, but he didn’t worry about his own safety. He also didn’t worry whether or not the injured man would make him religiously unclean. That seems to be the reason the priest in the story and the Levite chose to avoid the mugging victim rather than helping him. Thirdly, the Samaritan, acting like a neighbor, didn’t worry about how much helping the wounded person would cost him, in time or in money.
In taking on the role of neighbor, the Samaritan also didn’t think about the victim beyond his needs. He didn’t check on his politics. He didn’t check on his theology. He didn’t help the injured person in hopes of pay back. He wasn’t worried whether or not the mugging victim was a responsible person or a drunkard. In other words, he helped him with no strings attached.
The check list? The Samaritan didn’t have one. He cared for the man in need unconditionally. It’s a good picture of love, I think. Which is why Jesus told the story in the first place, isn’t it.