We show love for God by the way that we show love for neighbors, which is always measured by what we do, not what we say.
Like Bob Goff says, “Love does.”
This was the central message of a recent sermon I preached on Luke 10:25-37’s Parable of the Good Samaritan.
It’s tangible and practical, the way that the Samaritan actively went to the man, bound his wounds, poured oil and wine (giving up provisions), changed his schedule to care for him and then paid for his future care.
He acted in love and without partiality; he expected nothing in return.
Compassion is always active. Otherwise, it’s sympathy, and sympathy doesn’t change the world.
But that’s what has been nagging me in the back of my mind. Beyond encouraging good acts toward others, does this parable have the capacity to change the world?
Is there something more to this story than just: 1) if you see someone in a ditch, help them, and 2) you might have to cross a cultural, even hostile boundary, like the Samaritan did?
I believe that there is.
Having just come from a pilgrimage in Israel, I can tell you that the animosity between the Jews and Palestinians is still very strong.
We traveled into walled areas controlled by the Palestinians and got used to the constant vigilance of security that Israel pursues. We heard about tension surrounding the development of Jewish settlements. While we were there, a knife attack was carried out several miles from our lodging.
In our own country, we feel the tension of racial divide and a sense that we are no longer safe, whether at a concert or simply walking down the street.
In “Luke for Everyone,” N.T. Wright points out that even though the lawyer wants to know “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus doesn’t really answer his question. Instead, Jesus’ story of the Samaritan and the beaten man opens a broader conversation.
For the lawyer, God is the God of Israel, and neighbors are Jewish neighbors. For Jesus, God is a God of grace for the whole world, and a neighbor is anyone in need.
Jesus himself had witnessed the persistent division, separation and violence. He came to do something about that.
He didn’t walk from village to village healing and preaching and blessing just so that he could share some nice vignettes about life. He told stories to turn the world upside down.
Jesus is essentially saying, “Look, I am walking this same road. And I am telling you that the way of God is not the way of separation and confrontation with your enemies. That is not the way to bring peace. If you yourself don’t find a way to show mercy and compassion to people that you don’t like, it’s likely that you yourself will experience more violence. The community will not become more peaceful if you, the people of God, don’t extend God’s love. And ultimately, you may find yourself on the side of the road, left for dead, if you can’t recognize the hated Samaritan as your neighbor.”
Loving your neighbor, especially those you don’t like, has the power to radically change the world.
But it’s also true that ignoring a need is not neutral. It’s devastating. Eventually, we’ll all be in the ditch if we can’t find a way to love one another and help our enemies in need.
The people of God must extend God’s love in practical ways. More words, even kind ones, aren’t enough to deal with the world’s separation problems. We have been taught not just a truth, but a way.
Jesus’ way is the way of the smile that signals ease and acceptance. It’s the way of the shared cup of coffee so that someone can share their experience.
It’s the way of asking “Where is the pain?” and being willing to go there, to bind wounds and help make a better future. It’s the way of praying for and serving our enemies.
It’s the way modeled by the Samaritan who didn’t stop to think about the boundaries or the danger. It’s the way of action.
We need this story. It shows us the path to make real and lasting peace. It’s never easy but it’s not complicated.
Brent McDougal is senior pastor of Cliff Temple Baptist Church in Dallas. A version of this article first appeared on Cliff Temple’s blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @BrentMcDougal.