Before we continue our conversation on what real love is (agape love, which refers to unconditional love, or the highest form of gracious love), let's look at God's love for us in action on a human-to-human level. Jesus gives us a stunning example of this in Luke 10 — the parable of the good Samaritan.
The Law of Love
It is important to note why Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan to begin with. It was a response to a couple of questions that led to Christ illustrating what obedience to God's law should look like (John 10:25-30).
One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with a story - John 10:25-30
A Context for Indifference
To put us in a space to understand this parable as it would have been received when it was told, here are a few significant details.
Left for dead. The story begins with a man left half dead with no one to help him. This is in the text, but it is tempting to believe help was in reach for this man. The original hearers of this story would have understand him to be completely helpless, left to hyperthermia, infection and eventual death.
A matter of importance. Jewish culture (and really, all other cultures at that time), permitted themselves to honour hierarchies. To shatter the common excuses of the day, Jesus brings a priest and Levite into the story.
Both the priest and Levite would have been considered elite Jews, while the Samaritan would have ranked at the very bottom of social order. The priest and Levite would have been esteemed for their religious work, and the excuse would have been made that their time would have been too valuable to help a half dead man at the side of the road. Someone less important could do that.
A radical response. Samaritans lived in Samaria, and were half Jewish and have Babylonian, Persian (or another "other" ethnicity). They were hated and it was perfectly acceptable to treat Samaritans badly, simply because of their mixed-race identity. Jews were taught to exclude them from worship, disassociate from them, and avoid business with them.
The Samaritan, the only example of love and mercy in this story, bestowed his graciousness on someone who would have only been understood as his mortal enemy.
Love in action
“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’ - John 10:33-35
There would have been many costs and risks for the Samaritan. By caring for the man's wounds, he would have risked infection, being isolated from his own people due to uncleanness, and rejection from his people for helping a Jew. Jesus also presents us with a Samaritan so gracious that he volunteers to pay for all of the man's costs indefinitely. It is as if he says, "I will pay whatever it takes for this man to be well".
There are two things to note with respect to our understanding of God and love here. First, God calls us to love without limits (excluding no one and stopping at nothing). Second, God Himself loves us with an unconditional love, willing to pray the ultimate price, and demonstrated by Christ's death on the cross. If we have any doubts about whether we are loved, we have that evidence to anchor our trust in.
What does love look like?
“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” - John 10:36-37
1 Corinthians 13 describes what love is and is not for us. The parable of the good Samaritan demonstrates what love looks like. It looks like freely given grace and mercy. It looks like kindness, even when culture has given us permission to be indifferent and unkind.
As you meditate on the real love of God, ask yourself:
How did the priest and Levite demonstrate what love isn't?
How did the Samaritan demonstrate what love is?
What does this story teach you about loving others?