It is a wonderful thing to see one’s children growing up to become independent adults. I have four children and it has given me great pleasure to be able to declare them...
Jesus had a remarkable ability to engage and captivate people from all walks of life. The stories he told revealed the nature of God, provided guidance for how to live, and corrected long-held religious assumptions.
One of Jesus’ best-known stories is The Good Samaritan (Lk 10.25–37). The continued popularity of this story, even among those who are not followers of Jesus, is likely due to its universal application and relevance. Jesus told the story to explain how to love one’s neighbour, but, like most of Jesus’ stories, the parable of the Good Samaritan is layered with multiple messages, which we should be careful not to ignore.
In response to a question from someone asking, "Who is my neighbour?”, Jesus crafted a story about a man who was attacked, beaten, robbed, and left injured on a roadside. Two people of religious status passed by the injured man, but a man who would have been considered an enemy is the one who stopped, gave first aid, transported the injured man to safety, and then paid for additional care to be provided.
The actions of the characters in the story set up a drastic contrast, which confronted the worldview of the listeners. The two people who, based on their vocation and status, would have been expected to stop and give assistance chose not to stop and help. The reasons for their inaction were not mentioned but could have been assumed based on their religious traditions. Perhaps they were on religious business and did not want to become ‘unclean’... Perhaps they feared for their own safety.
Even if the men in the story did not help because they feared doing so would put them in danger, difficulty, or inconvenience, their perspective was flawed. By choosing not to help when they had the opportunity to do so, these religious leaders failed to demonstrate love. At the conclusion of the story, Jesus’ answer to the question was clear: the neighbour was the one who demonstrated mercy to the injured man.
In a different lesson, Jesus warned about another group of people at the opposite end of the spectrum: those who deliberately seek to do harm.
In John 16.2, Jesus warned his followers of the harm that would likely come to them at the hands of others. He says, "A time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.”
Here Jesus warns about a group of people who are so committed to God that they are willing to kill another person and believe doing so is a service to God. From their perspective, these people are convinced of their own righteousness, which gives them permission to inflict harm on another person who has a different view, belief, or practice of devotion to God.
In the first story (Lk 10.31), the religious worldview chose to ignore someone who had been harmed, but in the second example (Jn 16.2), the religious worldview chose to inflict harm. Both choices stemmed from a worldview that was based on some form of devotion to God, and both groups, it was implied, felt they were justified in their decisions. But Jesus made it clear that both were wrong. In Luke 10.37, he said the people didn’t demonstrate love, and in John 16.3, he said the people don’t know him or the Father.
While it may be easy to hear of these two negative examples and respond with something like, “Oh, those are two extremes; I’m not like either of those," It may be helpful to take time for critical reflection.
- Have we ever chosen not to act when we could have done something to help another person who was in need?
- Have we ever kept a distance from someone because they were from a different culture, ethnic, or religious background?
- Have we ever ‘cancelled’, spoken critically of, or distanced ourselves from someone because they disagreed with us?
- Have we aligned ourselves with someone who justifies their abusive or violent behaviour against someone else?
We’re familiar with the defence mechanisms of fight or flight. In relationships, we employ these manoeuvres of attack or withdrawal. It is important to remember that these mechanisms are based on fear. When we make decisions based on fear, we are not making decisions from a posture of love.
The first group mentioned above operated in flight. They were, in some way, afraid of what would happen if they got involved, so they withdrew from the person in need. The second group operated in Fight. They were afraid of someone expressing their love for God differently from their own, and their means of dealing with this fear was to attack, harm, or even kill. Neither of these actions is borne out of love. Neither action demonstrates concern or mercy for our neighbour.
At the risk of oversimplifying, our daily decisions lie somewhere along a spectrum between inaction or action, flight or fight. Regardless of our background, culture, or perspective, we each have opportunities to demonstrate mercy, compassion, and love to someone in need. That person may be a work colleague, someone who lives on our road, or someone who is our global neighbour. Right now, many of our global neighbours need us to demonstrate our compassion for them.
Love does not ignore people in need. Love does not harm (Rom. 13:10). Love does not fear because perfect love casts out fear (1 Jn 4:18).
Let us continue learning from our Father, seeking his grace to demonstrate love to others as he has loved us.
Cover Photo: Payam Moin Afshari