The way that God, our Creator, intends for us to live is known by every human being. How God intends for us to live is called God’s “will” or God’s “law.” Jesus referred to God’s law as God’s “commandment” or “word.” Jesus taught that it is God’s will or intention for us to love our “neighbor.”
When asked which is the “greatest” of God’s commandments, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).
What does it mean to “love your neighbor.” Love means “to value” or “to appreciate.” We love whatever we believe is valuable or has “worth.” Our love for other persons is shown by our respect or appreciation for their “value” or “worth.” According to Jesus, respect for others is demonstrated by doing to others as you wish others would do to you (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31). This is known as the “Golden Rule.”
Jesus taught that it is God’s will, or law, for us to love our “neighbor.” In response to the question, “Who is my neighbor,” Jesus told the parable we call “The Good Samaritan,” as follows:
“A man was going down from Jeruslem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half-dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he (the priest) saw him (the wounded man) he (the priest) passed by on the other side (of the road). So likewise a Levite, when he saw him (the wounded man) he (the Levite) passed by on the other side (of the road).
“But a Samaritan, as he jouneyed, came to where he (the wounded man) was; and when he saw him, he (the Samaritan) had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him (the wounded man) to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day, he (the Samaritan) took out two denaii (money) and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.”
“(Then Jesus asked,) ‘Which of these three proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’ He (a lawyer) said, ‘The one who showed mercy on him.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise’ (Luke 10:30-37).
In this parable, the man who was robbed and beaten was traveling “from Jerusalem to Jericho” (two cities in Judea). The implication of this geographical location is that the man was a Jew (from Judea). The man who showed compassion on him was a Samaritan. This is significant because Samaritans and Jews generally did not like each other because of racial and religious differences. Each considered the other to be an “enemy.”
The fact that a Samaritan had compassion on an “enemy” suggests that we should have compassion on anyone who is suffering, even those we consider our “enemies.” This seems to be supported by Jesus’ teaching, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27).
To “love your enemies” has always been a teaching that is hard to accept. We usually consider our “enemies” to be those persons who have done something wrong to us or to someone else. To “love your enemies” does not mean that we should accept their wrong behavior. On the other hand, we sometimes consider others to be our “enemies” simply because they are “different” from us. This is a mistake. But regardless of why we consider others to be our “enemies,” we must always be ready “to do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). We must always be ready to have compassion on anyone who suffers, even our enemies. We must not respond with hatred toward those who hate us.
Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Of course, one of the “neighbors” in the story was the man who was suffering and needed help. But the primary example of a “neighbor” in the story was the Samaritan who had compassion and helped the suffering man. Anyone who demonstrates compassion by helping others is a “neighbor” whom we should love. The race and religion of that “neighbor,” or other identifying characteristics, do not matter. Persons are to be judged solely on how they treat others.
Jesus taught that it is God’s will, or law, for people to love each other. Any failure to love others is disobedience to God’s will or “law.” Disobedience to God’s law is called “sin.” We seldom hear the word “sin” today but it means “failure to love.”
The parable of the good Samaritan is important because it shows us what it means to disobey God’s law of “love for other persons.” In the parable, we see two kinds of “failure to love.”
The robbers who robbed and beat the man demonstrated an “active” failure to love by causing the man to suffer. The priest and Levite demonstrated a “passive” failure to love by being indifferent to the suffering of the man. To cause human suffering or to be indifferent to human suffering are both “failures to love,” and therefore “disobedience to God.”