Years ago, I had a friend who would get frustrated at how complicated people seemed to make following Jesus. He would say, “Its really simple: Love God and love people!” Don’t get me wrong, I understand his point. But it isn’t simple to love God. And if we qualify that with “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind,” it becomes downright impossible. I don’t know anyone, other than Jesus, who loves God perfectly with everything they are. Do you? And sometimes God is just plain hard to love. Like when we believe with all of who we are that He is sovereign and yet evil things happen to good people. I mean, what in the world? And don’t even get me started on loving people. The simple truth is I don’t love my neighbor or anybody really, as I love myself. I mean I have flashes of that kind of love for others. But I also have dark moments of selfishness. So, yes. The message is a simple love God and love people. But it is not only hard it is, in fact, impossible. But this is still what we are called to.
Luke 10:30-37 is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. But before we deal with the parable, it is important to look at the setting scene in 25-29. An expert in the law of Moses stands in opposition testing Jesus. Notice the body language that is being described here. You have witnessed this haven’t you? It is an in your face challenge. Daniel 12:2 is the first time a clear word of resurrection and eternal life appears. Since then, the Jews have debated about what it means to inherit this everlasting life. How do you grab hold of this much desired life? It seems like a good way to show Jesus – this friend to the rabble rabbi – to be fraud. Jesus turns the question around on him. “How do you read (or understand) the law?” This was a common rabbinical question intended to begin discussion about the finer points of law. The expert responds with the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:5. The Jews prayed this word on the daily. He throws in Leviticus 19:18. Love God with everything you are and love your neighbor as intently as you love yourself. Jesus tells him that he has answered correctly and encourages him to live the answer. Now, that’s the rub isn’t it? Can anyone truly live loving God with their whole being? Has there ever been anyone who has loved their neighbor as themselves – making sure they have plenty to eat to stave off hunger; clothes to ward off the cold; shelter to find comfort and protection?
The lawyer desired to make himself right. The exact meaning of this has been debated. As it stands, Jesus is on top of this discussion. This is how Jesus lived his life. He lived loving God with everything he is; putting the will of God above his own. He loves his neighbor even if his neighbor is involved in sin or an undesirable job such as tax-collecting. My guess is that the lawyer didn’t live these commands out the way Jesus is implying. So, the lawyer asked “Who is my neighbor?” The Jews tended to view Leviticus 19:18 very narrowly: fellow Jews, and some would even exclude the sinners and tax-collectors Jesus was infamous for eating with. Even though Leviticus expands this command to include the resident alien. But the Jews in Jesus’ day had to endure being occupied by the evil Roman Empire. Surely God didn’t mean those resident aliens. Surely not. So, maybe the lawyer thought he would have ammunition against Jesus if Jesus refused to define “neighbor” as narrowly as many of his fellow Jews would have demanded. Maybe he was saying something like “Just tell me who I have to love.” Maybe he was saying, “Well yes, but there is more at issue here. It’s not that simple Jesus.” Here’s what we know. He was attempting to make himself right. He wanted to win the argument and look good in the eyes of the witnesses of the whole exchange. And that doesn’t smack of love.
Notice that the question and Jesus’ answer is about action. Following Jesus is no mere mental exercise. As Switchfoot sings, “Love is a verb.” And maybe the question is not are you doing this perfectly, but are you trying? You may fall short of living the Shema, but is it your daily prayer? And you may love your neighbor if they look like you; think like you; or worship like you. But can you love people who hate you; who persecute you? The message is simple, but living the message is not. Don’t let that keep you from giving it your all. You cannot be too loving. You can love with the wrong kind of love, but you can never be too loving. Love God then, with your whole heart (inner self), with your whole soul (energy to act), with your whole strength (ability to act), and with your whole mind (reason). Love God and love people.