Then one of the experts in the Law stood up to test him and said, “Master, what must I do to be sure of eternal life?”
“What does the Law say and what has your reading taught you?” said Jesus.
“The Law says, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’, and ‘your neighbour as yourself’,” he replied.
“Quite right,” said Jesus. “Do that and you will live.” But the man, wanting to justify himself, continued, “But who is my ‘neighbour’?” (JBP)
This is the setting for the familiar story of the Good Samaritan. The questioner is perhaps wanting to figure out where the limits of his love might lie. True, we love God and neighbour, but does this mean loving everyone, or just certain people? Jesus’ answer seems to be that anyone in need is my neighbour and thus proper recipients of my love.
Like this questioner, we might want to limit our love for others to a few people we like, or those who are in our religious ‘tribe’. True, our love might begin with those closest to us, those familiar to us. After all, we are more aware of their situation. But Jesus tells us that we can’t let our love stop there.
The good Samaritan didn’t enquire about the beaten man’s theology or education or political beliefs. He saw someone in need and met the need. The victim may well have been a devout Jew who despised such Samaritans. No matter: there was a need and it was met through an act of generous love.
Elsewhere Jesus reminds us that we are to love even our enemies. To pat ourselves on the back for our kindness towards our friends and fellow Christians whilst not giving much thought to those who might oppose us, is to succumb to hypocrisy. It is to capture love and make it neat and tidy. Whereas real love is usually messy, uncomfortable, and costly.