The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Not Who but How | Love Commandments

The Love Commandments: We attach so many meanings to the word love, but what about love as a command, what is God doing in his commands? Unpack with us in this five part bible series. This is part four.

“On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’
He answered, ‘“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, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”’
‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?”

Luke 10:25-29

Anyone who has attended Sunday school will see the answer to this question popping up in their mind right away: ‘everyone is my neighbour!’

It is somewhat paralysing to find that everyone in the whole world is classified as my neighbour – how on earth can I love them all?! What so easily arises is a very airy-fairy view of what it means to love.

But Jesus doesn’t answer the question ‘who is my neighbour?’. His question at the end exposes a different perspective on the law: ‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ (Luke 10:36). Jesus shows his hearers through the parable that the commandment is not concerned with the number of people we count as our neighbours, but the neighbourly character of the one who obeys.

Neighbourly character is to a degree enshrined in law for the Jews. Commandments about how you treat others, particularly vulnerable groups, are found throughout the Torah. So the crowd wouldn’t find this suggestion unusual. But Jesus goes one step further: he places a Samaritan in the story. Not only that, but the Samaritan is the one who does right, not the priest or Levite. Samaritans were ‘enemies’, in part because of their different interpretation of Jewish Scripture. How difficult for the expert in the law to accept him as a model to follow!

Belonging in the world of mums and tots, I have encountered a lot of people that I wouldn’t normally associate with, people whose home culture is very different to mine. So what’s my response? It’s tempting to pass over them as possible friends, but I am challenged by this story to be a neighbour to them.

Perhaps an even greater challenge is that Jesus asks the Jews to accept neighbourly love from their enemies. There is no moral high ground for the injured Jew; he must humbly accept the mercy shown to him. I’m quick to offer help to those who need it, but also quick to turn down offers of help in false independence. Yet an acceptance of help creates a neighbourly bond. We become beholden to each other, and so relationships – not charity – are formed.

So who do you pass over? Who might God want you to treat as a neighbour today? Who can you accept help from today?

For Further Reflection

  • How has it felt when someone has shown mercy to you?
  • Who on your frontline have you discounted as in need of neighbourly love? What could you do to see this person differently, and to meet them with God’s love?