A Bible professor approached Jesus, wishing to test his teaching. He asked, “Teacher, what should I do to obtain God’s life that never ends?” Jesus said, “What does it say in the Bible? How do you understand it?” The professor answered, “You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your mind. And you will love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus, impressed, replied, “This is correct. Live this out, and eternal life is yours.” But knowing he had not lived this out—and had no intention to—but wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “But, really, who is my neighbor?” Jesus sighed and responded, “There was a man traveling from Washington D.C. to New York and some terrorists kidnapped him, stripped his clothes off and beat him half to death, leaving by the side of the road, helpless. Now it so happened that a Mennonite pastor passed by, and he saw him. But, thinking he was a homeless bum, he ignored him and went on his way. Then a Baptist worship leader drove by the same spot, but since he was in a hurry to make it on time to his worship service, he also ignored him and made it to the service on time. Then a Muslim drove by and saw the man laying on the side of the road. Compassion welled up in his heart and he stopped, got out his first aid kit, covered his wounds, put him in his car (getting blood all over the new seats) and drove him to the hospital. There he told the doctor, “If he doesn’t have any insurance, here’s my credit card number—just take it from my account.’ Now,” Jesus concluded, “Which of these was the neighbor to man attacked by terrorists?” The professor said, “The M- the one who had compassion on him.” Jesus smiled and looked him in the eye, “Now you do the same.”
Do terrorists and Muslims really belong in this story?
Actually, they do! The Greek word “lestes” is often translated “robber.” But it actually means one who uses violence to achieve economic or political change, so one might translate it either as “revolutionary” or, possibly, “terrorist.” The Samaritans, on the other hand, are those who were similar to Jews—they worshipped the same God and had many of the same stories. But they had different centers of worship and they considered each other heretics. So if the original Jewish victim became an American Christian, who would the Samaritan be but a faithful Muslim? As far as D.C. and New York for Jerusalem and Jericho… well, that might be stretching it a bit.
The Th- Word
At some point or another, everyone has to deal with theology. It sounds scary (especially if you’ve heard of such words as dispensationalism and superlapsarian), but really its pretty simple—theology is just what we can say about God. Of course, Jesus then had a lot to say about theology. But whenever he wanted to get to the basics, to talk about what is most important to God and most important about our relationship with God, he gets back to these two commands: Love God and love your neighbor. That’s as basic as it gets.
Just Do It
But whenever any professor of theology or dogmatician tries to talk about theology, they do it on very different terms. They always speak of “a doctrine statement” or a “confession of faith”. They emphasize what it is we believe about God. And that’s fine, as far as it goes. But whenever Jesus spoke about theology, he spoke about action and relationship. Either he is speaking about what God does for us or what we do for God. Even his most basic statement “God is spirit” is followed by a command, “And those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24). According to Jesus, God isn’t just someone who sits in heaven—he’s a person who interacts with his people, “God with us.” And we aren’t to be people who observe God like we would a tv screen—we are to be active participants with our theology. If we just believe about God in our head, that isn’t enough—we’ve got to have faith in our hands and feet. And so Jesus talked about a faith that is enacted in obedience and an obedience that is informed by faith. Just like sex and conception, you can’t have one without the other.
Two Relationships of Theology
So when Jesus tells us about theology, he says that in every aspect of it, there are two relationships. Theology, he says, isn’t something that happens in our head, it is a connection between (at least) two beings. First, there is the relationship between the human and God. And this relationship is defined by “love”, so whatever else you can say about this relationship, it is supposed to be positive, and not simply duty-based. Yes, we already know that there is obedience involved—after all, Jesus gave us commands—but the relationship behind these commands aren’t just that of slave to master. Rather, we are to have a positive relationship with God, one in which we both benefit from the process.
The second relationship is that between human and human. This is what is really odd. I mean, Jesus is speaking about theology—what we can say about God—and the very thing that Jesus puts in there is our relationship with other people. What do other people have to do with God? Well, two things. First of all, God is very concerned about people. I mean, He made them, and he gave them the earth to rule (Psalm 8). And he claims to love them all (John 3:16). Also, in this command, God is trying to help us PUT God into every relationship. Jesus is saying, “in your relationship with your neighbor, God is commanding it to be benefitial.” Thus, the relationship between human and human becomes theological, because God is forcing himself into that relationship (Ah, I know people like that…)
But what we need to realize in this basic of theology, is that Jesus is putting God and other human beings in everything we do religiously, theologically and spiritually. We cannot have a spirituality without God, according to Jesus. And we cannot have a faith without other people. If we claim to be doing something for God and it does not benefit others, then we do not have Jesus’ faith. Even so, if we attempt to do something for others and do not include God, then we do not have Jesus’ faith. Jesus’ theology is completely balanced between these two relationships—all has to do with both God and other people. To exclude one is to exclude true spirituality.
What is love of neighbor?
Well, we’d like to say more about loving God, but our teaching here by Jesus doesn’t give us any more than that it is love and it is God and well, that’s all that’s said. But the rest of the passage does talk quite a bit more about the love of neighbor. What exactly does it say?
Love of Neighbor isn’t exclusive
The professor wanted to exclude from the command everyone he didn’t like. Maybe he wanted to exclude heretics, or those who didn’t live in his country, or sinners or folks who did him wrong. But when Jesus asked his question, he made the professor answer that it was the Muslim—the heretic, the sinner, the foreigner, the persecutor—who was the neighbor. This means that if he was a neighbor, then EVERYONE is a neighbor, without exception. So the command involves every single human relationship we are in, without exception.
Love of Neighbor is demanded
Secondly, in Jesus’ story, he gave examples of two “good Christians” who didn’t follow the love of one’s neighbor. Thus, in Jesus’ story, although these people had a certain kind of faith, it wasn’t the kind that God was looking for. Their faith was practical and very pious, but it was wrong-headed. Because they thought that the love of God excluded them from the love of neighbor, then they were okay was NOT okay for God. God demands that the people who love Him also love those around them.
Love of Neighbor is compassion
The word that most defines the love of one’s neighbor is “compassion”. The Greek word for this is “splachna” which literally means “the feeling in your guts.” In other words, love is the gut-wrenching feeling you get when you see someone who is in need. To love someone is to recognize their need and to have compassion for it. No matter how evil they are, no matter how wrong-headed, compassion prevails in our attitude towards another.
Love of Neighbor is practical benefit
Lastly, when Jesus spoke about loving one’s neighbor, he was saying that the love was practical. The Muslim didn’t just pray a positive prayer for the man lying on the road. He didn’t just think good thoughts. Rather, he went out of his way to help him out in whatever way he could. He sacrificed his plans, his money and his vehicle to assist the stranger in need. Love doesn’t just stay in the heart (or the guts), but it gets out the pocketbook and gets dirty. Without being of practical benefit, it isn’t really love.
To have right faith is to present a benefit to everyone you meet