Wednesday, February 14, 2007

“And who is my neighbor?”

God’s Law says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). With this in mind, a lawyer once challenged Jesus to explain, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Jesus’ answer was the story that you see in this picture (Luke 10:30-37).

A man was beaten, stripped, and left for dead by robbers on the road. Several people from the man’s own country, even religious people, walked by and did nothing to help the man. But a Samaritan – a foreigner from a hated nation and religious sect – came to the man’s aid. This despised stranger bandaged the man’s wounds, carried him on his donkey, paid for his stay at an inn and for all the medical care the man would need.

The Samaritan expected no reward or even gratitude. He simply showed compassion on his neighbor in need. This is the standard God’s Fifth Commandment holds us to. Not only does God forbid us to murder our neighbor, but He also demands that we care for our neighbor’s physical needs, protect him from danger, and help him when he is hurt.

God even expects us to show this kind of love to our enemies, and to do good to those who hate us (Matthew 5:44). And in 1 John 3:15, God actually teaches, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Even hatred, a murder that we commit in our heart alone, is known to God – and it condemns us!

There is not one of us who has lived up to the standard of God’s Fifth Commandment. At times, each of us becomes a murderer in our heart. But even murderers can be saved. In Luke 23:43, Jesus promised eternal life to a repentant robber who was crucified by his side – a robber who, most likely, was also a murderer.

How can Jesus promise salvation even to murderers and wicked criminals? Jesus can promise this because He was condemned as a criminal and punished as a criminal. As Almighty God, Jesus could have prevented this. But He willingly suffered and died, to pay for the sins of all. Like the Good Samaritan, Jesus was compassionate to those who hated and despised Him, even asking God to forgive His own executioners (Luke 23:34). He paid with His very blood to bring us to safety and to heal our sins and weakness.

And now, the love of the crucified and risen Christ makes us new creatures, with new possibilities in store for us. Because Jesus loved us to the end (John 13:1), our sins are forgiven. By the message of forgiveness, the Holy Spirit gives us faith, salvation, and the gift of loving one another – even if it means putting our neighbor's physical wellbeing ahead of our own!

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” says the Spirit in 1 John 4:10-11. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

IMAGE: Bassano, Francesco (1549-1592). The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), 1575-80. Canvas, 73 x 98.4 cm. Location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria. Photo Credit: Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY

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