As we begin one of the most sacred times in the life of our faith let us look at the challenges the Child from heaven calls us to live by. And though It is easy to decide that personal piety is all that we need to worry about as Christians, our faith calls us to much greater places. This Child from heaven calls us to live our lives with each other with compassion and mercy, love and respect, no matter the person.
In the story of the Good Samaritan a lawyer asks Jesus what he can do to inherit eternal life. It seems that the lawyer is hoping for a simple answer such as give some money to the poor, or live an upright life, or go to Temple every week, and give the appropriate amount and you will go to heaven. But Jesus expects far more out of each of us. Jesus knows that God's covenant promises eternal life for the Jews, and for Christians we are promised eternal life through him. His concern for the lawyer and all of us is how we live our lives in relationship with each other.
With that thought in mind Jesus asks the man, "How does the law read?" (the first five books of the Bible). The lawyer responds "to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And Jesus answers him "...do this and you will live." Notice here he says live and not inherit eternal life. The lawyer is not satisfied with the answer and asks Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" Which is a polite way of asking, “Who is not my neighbor?” or “Who does not deserve my love?” or “Whose lack of food or shelter can I ignore?” or “Whom I can hate?”
And it is here that we get the parable we call the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37. I think most of us know the parable, but here is a quick reminder. A man is beaten nearly to death as he is traveling between Jericho and Jerusalem. A priest and Levite (both people of faith) see the man beaten nearly to death and, like many of us, take the route of convenience and go around the man. It is only when the man from Samaria (the Good Samaritan) sees the beaten man that he gets help.
Jews and Samaritans did not like each other and those listening to Jesus would have heard something like the "good radical Muslim terrorist" instead of the Good Samaritan. However, it is this character, who Jesus' listeners would call despicable, who goes out of his way to help. He spares no expense and lavishes both short term and long term care on the person in need. At the end of the story, Jesus does not answer the question "who is my neighbor;" instead he asks the lawyer, "Who was the the neighbor to the man in need?" The lawyer asked Jesus, "What select few deserve my love?" Jesus answers, “Everyone deserves that love—local or alien, Jews or gentile, terrorist or rapist, everyone." (from "Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi" by Amy Levine.)
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. commented on this parable: the question that the priest and the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ . . . But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’
"For the lawyer, and for Luke’s readers, the Samaritan does what God does. The divine is manifested only through our actions. “Go,” Jesus says, “and you do likewise.” To speak of loving God and loving neighbor does not require theological precision.... Loving God and loving neighbor cannot exist in the abstract; they need to be enacted." (from "Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi" by Amy-Jill Levine.)
In this time that we as a nation seem to be asking, "Who deserves our love and who can we ignore, or not help, or even hate?" we need to remember these words of the one whose birth we will soon be celebrating. Jesus went so far as to say, "love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." He commanded us to love each other as God first loved us, and by this love others would know that we are his disciples. Jesus asks us to not only believe what Jesus taught us, but to live those words everyday of our lives. Because God first loved us we can and must love all those around us.
In the peace of the Child born in a stable on a cold winter's night.