Herein comes one of the most famous stories in the New Testament- well, actually two stories, but really one. Wait… what? Here in Luke 10:25-37 we get the famous “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul…” and we also get the famed “Parable of the Good Samaritan”. What many often forget, or simply do not know, is that these two passages are both part of one story. I think one of the reasons for this disconnect is that we don’t get the Good Samaritan in Matthew or Mark; it is only in Luke. And to understand what’s really going on with The Good Samaritan, it must (in my opinion) be read with the The Greatest commandment.
The Greatest Commandment is a command to love. It is a command to love God (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) and to love “your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). The the question is asked “who is my neighbor?” This is vital in understanding the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We like to take this parable all by itself and reduce it down to being about serving those in need. And that is definitely in there, but when we put it in Luke’s context that is not what is at its core. This parable is not a parable about serving as much as it is about loving. It is not as much as about what we’re supposed to do as much as it is about what kind of people we’re supposed to become. I’m not saying we shouldn’t serve, but I do think that we hide behind this parable’s harder meaning by making it about serving and not loving.
You see, when it comes down to it, serving is easy. We can call go out and serve from time to time and feel good about ourselves. But you know what’s hard? “Loving your neighbor as yourself is hard. It’s especially hard when your neighbor is a “samaritan”. That is, your neighbor is the person on the “other side of the aisle”. The hard message of the Parable of the Good Samaritan is its command to us to love our enemies. As we head into what is shaping up to be yet another nasty political season, we need to remember this. The Greatest Commandment (that is, the top, core thing that God demands of us) is to love those on the other side- to love those who are different than we are, who have a differing worldview, who believe in a different kind of God or no God at all, who are of a different economic class, who stand in opposition toward everything I might think is good and right. This parable is not calling us to hand a homeless person our spare change so that we can feel good about ourselves. It is demanding that we do the hard work of not merely loving those on the “other side”, but going beyond that toward what one of my favorite songwriters once wrote: “He didn’t join the other side; the battle lines just disappeared”.* This is a call to not just move beyond our dividing lines, but to destroy the dividing lines all together. Love of God, self, and neighbor just got real.
*”Carpenter Story/Fearless Love” by David Wilcox