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The Greatest Commandment (Part Two): Loving Others

By Barry Shafer | Director, InWord | August 18 2011

Love God. Love others.

In the previous issue, we looked at the first half of the above phrase: Love God. I'm just obsessive compulsiveness enough to have to dedicate this column to the last half: Love others. You might also consider this to be part deux in an effort to keep this familiar statement infused with meaning and connected to its origins—the top two greatest commandments, as told by Jesus.

After Jesus spoke of the second greatest commandment—"love your neighbor as yourself"—Luke noted that a lawyer tried to justify himself by asking who his neighbor is. Maybe he was hoping his own, narrow definition of neighbor would suffice; perhaps he was looking for some kind of loophole (as most all of us are wont to do). Either way, Jesus' answer was not what he was expecting to hear.

In His response, Jesus told the story of a Samaritan tending to the needs of a beaten man who already had been passed over by a priest and a Levite. Jesus then countered the lawyer's question with a question of His own (as Jesus was wont to do). This is where we join the lesson.

"'Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?' The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.' Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise'" (Luke 10:36-37).

Think About It

I spent a big chunk of my life thinking the neighbor in this story was the man left for dead. It's an easy take away: Love your neighbors—anyone you might come upon who is in need. However, that's not the neighbor in this story—at least not the only one. The Samaritan, as identified by the lawyer's answer to Jesus' question—is the neighbor to whom Jesus was referring: "Who's the neighbor?" Answer: "The one who showed mercy—the Samaritan." That's who we're supposed to love as ourselves. Further, the actions of the Samaritan are what we're to imitate in how we love.

The notion of loving a Samaritan as a neighbor was scandalous. This Jewish lawyer certainly may have understood the Old Testament notion of neighbor to be someone of the covenant community, a fellow Israelite (Leviticus 19:18)—in essence, another similar to himself. Samaritans were not similar to him and certainly not part of the covenant community. (If you don't know the history of Jews and Samaritans, Google the topic).

Yet it's the Samaritan whom Jesus used to make two huge points: 1) Show love to your neighbor with no limit as to who your neighbor might be; 2) Show love as a neighbor as shown by this Samaritan.

Apply It

Show love to my neighbor. So who are the Samaritans in our lives and in the lives of our teens? It's rather easy to love those who are like us, but what about those who are different? Not only different in the obvious ways such as race, or socio-economic status, but different in more subtle ways: the less ambitious (OK, lazy), those prone to life-marking mistakes, those who'd be surprised by our love. For our teens, maybe it's the new student at school or the loner who lacks social graces.

Show love as a neighbor. Here's what the lawyer was to "do likewise": Be compassionate to the point of action. Expect to show mercy spontaneously and at inopportune moments. No longer think, "That's a need for someone else to meet." Be the one to meet the need. Then exceed expectations.

Love God. Love others. Those are two good commands to obsess over. In fact, they're the two greatest.

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