Why loyalty to God requires loyalty to one’s enemies
Tell me who you loyal to
Is it money? Is it fame? Is it weed? Is it drink?
Is it comin’ down with the loud pipes and the rain?
Big chillin’, only for the power in your name
Tell me who you loyal to
Is it love for the streets when the lights get dark?
Is it unconditional when the ‘Rari don’t start?
Tell me when your loyalty is comin’ from the heart
Tell me who you loyal to
Do it start with your woman or your man? (Mmm)
Do it end with your family and friends? (Mmm)
Or you’re loyal to yourself in advance?
During the course of verse 2, Kendrick and Rihanna go up a hierarchy of things to which their audience could be loyal. They start with the most basic loyalties: wealth and bodily pleasures. Then they move to cultures and ideologies, such as street life. Next they consider human relationships to significant others and community members. Lastly, they question whether the individual listener is loyal to herself.
Kendrick and Rihanna very well could have stopped their inquiry here. For most people living in a modern, humanist culture, loyalty to the self is the ultimate loyalty. The narrative of TPAB seemed to come to this same conclusion. The climax of that album was the song “i” in which Kendrick came back to Compton and performed at concert in which he repeatedly declared “I love myself.” While there is much truth in that statement, by Kendrick’s own admission, TPAB was still dealing with the problem and did not yet arrive at the solution. In fact, the narrative of DAMN. has already shown us the drawbacks of placing the love of self as the highest loyalty. Such a hierarchy has pushed Kendrick to violence and pride as he has become complicit with oppression. It is only after seeing the fruit of his choices that Kendrick finally questions his highest loyalty.
I said, tell me who you loyal to
Is it anybody that you would lie for?
Anybody you would slide for?
Anybody you would die for?
That’s what God for
It is at this point, after deeply questioning his own loyalties, that Kendrick has a brief moment of clarity. He declares that God is the only loyalty worth dying for. He has come a long way from the opening pre-chorus in which he agreed that Rihanna’s vagina was worth dying for. Now his loyalty to God has put everything in perspective. He realizes that he can no longer worship sex and serve his own desires for euphoria. Instead, King Kendrick is publicly asserting that he worships the Lord of heaven and earth.
Here the narrative arc of DAMN. mirrors the end of the first chapter of the Book of Jonah. Just like Jonah, Kendrick claims to worship the Lord even while he is running away from the Lord’s calling. Just like Jonah, Kendrick’s rejection of God’s commandments continues to put those around him in mortal danger. Just like Jonah, Kendrick has chosen to be loyal to himself rather than being loyal to God. As a consequence of their loyalty to self, neither Jonah nor Kendrick are capable of showing loyalty to others.
The Greatest Commandments: Love God & Others
This inseparable connection between loyalty to God and loyalty to others is exactly what Jesus upheld when the experts in the law tested him by asking which of the 613 commandments in the Torah was the greatest.
And one of them, an expert in religious law, asked him a question to test him: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
When asked for one greatest commandment, Jesus replied with two interelated commandments: love God and love one’s neighbor. According to Jesus, these two commandments are the most essential commandments to follow. More profoundly, Jesus said that these commandments are the thesis of “the law and the prophets”. Here Jesus is referring to the first two sections of the Tanakh — whose name is an anagram for the Torah (“The Law), the Neviim (“The Prophets”), and the Ketuviim (“The Writings”). By mentioning “the law and the prophets”, Jesus is saying that all divinely inspired scripture is an expression of humanity’s need to follow these two commandments. In fact, during Moses’s opening speech of Deuteronomy — after recounting the Ten Commandments that God had initially given earlier in the Exodus narrative— Moses gave one of the great commandments to summarize the central message of the Torah.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
- Deuteronomy 6:4–5
In addition to the verbatim restatement of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 6, Leviticus 19:1–17 contains what is essentially a remixed version of the Ten Commandments. The remixed Ten Commandment section then concludes with Jesus’s second great commandment.
“You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
- Leviticus 19:18
By selecting this commandment from Leviticus and putting it alongside the more prominent commandment in Deuteronomy, Jesus was making the claim that loving God is inseparable from loving images of God. In his view, a lack of love for other humans was proof that one did not truly love God, regardless of how many religious acts one performed. This claim is the basis for Jesus’s commandment regarding loyalty in the Sermon on the Mount. In that speech, Jesus instructed his followers that they must offer an olive branch to other humans before offering any kind of worship to God.
If therefore you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are with him on the way.
- Matthew 5:23–25
But Who is My Neighbor?
While Jesus is normally credited for highlighting Deuteronomy 6:4–5 and Leviticus 19:18 as the two commandments which summarize the Ancient Israelite law, it should be noted that Jesus was not the only one to come to this conclusion. Many of the religious teachers of his day agreed with Jesus that loving God and loving ones neighbors was the essence of the law. The primary difference between Jesus and the other religious teachers was how widely each party applied the second great commandment. The other religious leaders took a narrow application by interpreting the word “neighbor” to mean someone who lived in close proximity or at most someone who was also a Jew. This narrow application seemingly ignored a commandment that is placed later in Leviticus 19. That related commandment stipulated that the Israelites must love a foreign immigrant like they loved themselves and like they loved other ethnic Israelites.
If a foreign immigrant resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The immigrant shall be to you as the native-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were immigrants in the land of Egypt.
- Leviticus 19:33–34
This commandment — which seems to be intentionally located near the second great commandment — challenged the Israelites to expand their definition of what a neighbor is. It called them to empathize with people who were downtrodden and experiencing similar hardships to the ones that the Israelite ancestor experienced as slaves in a foreign land. However, even this widened level of application was not enough for Jesus. Instead, Jesus took the widest possible application by interpreting one’s neighbor to be any human being — including one’s enemies. This wide application can be seen in the fact that the Sermon on the Mount instructed followers to reconcile with their adversaries as well as their brothers. One can also see this difference in approach during the Gospel of Luke when Jesus asked a Torah scholar to summarize the law.
Now an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you understand it?” The expert answered, “ Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But the expert, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
- Luke 10:25–29
When asked to summarize the law, the Torah scholar answered with the same two commandments that Jesus highlighted. However, when Jesus asserted that one must follow those commandments to receive eternal life, the scholar tried to reserve his right to discriminate against others. He thus asked Jesus to define who a neighbor was.
While the scholar was likely hoping that Jesus would uphold a narrow application, Jesus instead told a parable in which a Jewish man was traveling along a road until he was robbed by bandits and beaten nearly to death. On two separate occasions, another Jew walking down the same road found the man lying naked, bloody and unconscious on one side of the road. The first man to approach was a priest and the second was a Levite. When these two men saw their fellow Jew in trouble, they each avoided the man, passed by on the other side of the road and left the man to die. After being abandoned by his Jewish brethren, a non-Jewish man approached. This man belonged to an ethnoreligious group called the Samaritans. When the Samaritan man saw the injured Jewish man, he had compassion, bandaged the man’s wounds, took the man to an inn and payed the innkeeper to care for the man.
After telling this parable, Jesus then left the expert in the law to decide whether the priest, Levite or Samaritan was a neighbor to the injured Jew.
Modern readers might read this parable as a simple story which encourages the listener to perform random acts of kindness. However, the original audience who lived in the context of first century Palestine and understood the significance of priests, Levites and Samaritans would have recognized that the parable presents a subversive story which questions what it means to truly follow God’s commandments.
One can start to appreciate this subtlety when one considers the fact that the laws from the Torah contain an entire section of what are called purity laws. Based on these laws, an Israelite could become “ritually impure” (Hebrew: ṭumah) if they came into contact with dead bodies, bodily fluids or skin diseases. Becoming ritually impure did not mean that one had done something wrong. In fact the “ritual impurity” could be reversed into “ritual purity” (Hebrew: ṭaharah) if one waited for a set period of time or performed a ritual washing with water. However, while a person was in a state of ritual impurity she was forbidden to inter into sacred spaces, particularly the temple. This separation also meant that she was prohibited from being near any crowd of people to prevent transferring her ritual impurity to any men who were ritually clean.
Unfortunately, while these purity laws were helpful for training the Israelites to treat God’s life-giving presence with respectful awe, the implementation of these laws perpetuated exclusionary injustice against those marginalized for being poor or female. Many of the poor were so in part because of the physical deformities and skin diseases which made them perpetually impure and thus unable to enter into God’s healing presence or into the marketplace to work their way out of poverty. Meanwhile, because menstrual bleeding counted as contact with bodily fluids, most women were prohibited from entering God’s presence for one week out of every month. These injustices were not lost upon Jesus.
Touching the Untouchables
One of the hallmarks of Jesus’s ministry was healing people. In the majority of the recounted instances these people either had physical deformities, skin diseases or were thought to be dead. In one of the most notable instances, while Jesus was traveling near the border of Samaria, Jesus healed ten men who suffered from leprosy — a debilitating, ancient skin disease.
Furthermore, three of the four gospel accounts tell a pivotal story in which a woman who had suffered continuous menstrual bleeding for twelve years is healed when she pushes through a crowd and reaches out to Jesus. In her attempt to touch Jesus, she grabbed hold of Jesus’s tzitzit— a braided tassel that Moses had instructed the Israelites to wear in order to remind themselves to follow God’s commandments. As soon as she grasped this visual reminder of following God’s commandments — as modeled by Jesus — she was instantly healed of her menstrual bleeding.
Before meeting Jesus the bleeding woman along with the ten lepers would have been perpetually impure and prohibited from entering the temple. After meeting Jesus these marginalized people were made pure not for the purpose of entering a temple building but so that their bodies could become the temple where God’s presence lives.
Avoiding Stains Or Avoiding Those in Pain
While Jesus made a name for himself as a traveling teacher who was loyal to God and others above any institution, the two Jewish leaders in Jesus’s parable represented the most distinguished ranks of the religious institutions in first century Roman Palestine. As mentioned in “Part 5: The Kingdom of God”, the priests and the Levites were descendants of the men whom Moses had set apart as God’s chosen representatives who would maintain the worship of God in the temple. Because their vocation required them to enter the temple, becoming ritually impure was a significant inconvenience. Furthermore, the most prominent teachers of the law in the first century held that all Jews should observe the purity laws at all times not just when one needed to enter the temple. Due to this application, remaining ritually pure became a source of pride for the religious leaders of Jesus’s day.
With all of that context in mind, it is not at all surprising that the priest and the Levite in Jesus’s parable made a concerted effort to avoid the injured man. In contrast to Jesus’s example, they both refused to risk becoming impure by touching the Jewish man was who was bleeding and could die at any moment. To ensure that the man would not reach out and touch them like the bleeding woman had touched Jesus, the priest and the Levite both veered to the opposite side of the road before passing by the injured man. Thus, just like Jonah, the priest and Levite claim to worship the God who created all humans in his image yet ironically do not realize that their actions are contributing to the suffering of the humans around them. They think they are showing loyalty to God but in reality they are being loyal to their own public image at the expense of loyalty to a man from their own people.
The Jews and Samaritans: A Story of Two Temples
As if the depiction of religious leaders wasn’t subversive enough, Jesus’s parable goes even further by making a Samaritan man the hero of the story. The original audience of this parable would have been shocked by this twist because they knew that Jews and Samaritans were enemies. Ironically, the division between Jews and Samaritans goes all the way back to the civil war in which the northern Kingdom of Israel seceded from the southern Kingdom of Judah. As we discussed in “Part 4: The Kingdoms of This World”, the separation from the temple in Jerusalem caused the Northern Kingdom to more quickly turn away from God and convert to the worship of idols. As a consequence, God allowed the Northern Kingdom’s capital, Samaria, along with the surrounding lands to be overthrown by the Assyrian Empire — the same empire whose capital, Nineveh, Jonah hoped God would overthrow by raining fire from heaven. One can read the details of these events in the Book of Kings from the Neviim section of the Tanakh.
Finally the LORD rejected Israel just as he had warned he would do through all his servants the prophets. Israel was deported from its land to Assyria and remains there to this very day. The king of Assyria brought foreigners from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim and settled them in the cities of Samaria in place of the Israelites. They took possession of Samaria and lived in its cities.
- 2 Kings 17:23–24
In addition to deporting most of the Israelites from Samaria, the king of Assyria sent people from elsewhere in the empire to colonize the land of Samaria. However, in a strange twist, their brutal military conquest and displacement of people from their ancestral homes brought devastation upon the land. Wild beasts — particularly lions — wandered into the cities from the wilderness and began eating the colonizers — much like the lions in the Book of Daniel ate the officials who had plotted against Daniel.
When they first moved in, they did not worship the LORD. So the LORD sent lions among them and the lions were killing them. The king of Assyria was told, “The nations whom you deported and settled in the cities of Samaria do not know the requirements of the God of the land, so he has sent lions among them. They are killing the people because they do not know the requirements of the God of the land.” So the king of Assyria ordered, “Take back one of the priests whom you deported from there. He must settle there and teach them the requirements of the God of the land.” So one of the priests whom they had deported from Samaria went back and settled in Bethel. He taught them how to worship the LORD.
- 2 Kings 17: 25–28
Much like the king of Nineveh in the Book of Jonah, the king of Assyria came to the conclusion that the land must turn toward God to avoid being overthrown. Thus, the king of Assyria sent one of the displaced priests back to Samaria so that he could teach the colonizers how to worship God, follow the commandments and take care of the land. The colonizers followed the priest’s instructions to some degree but they nonetheless continued to ignore many of the commandments and worship other gods.
But each of these nations made its own gods and put them in the shrines on the high places that the Samaritans had made. Each nation did this in the cities where they lived. At the same time they worshiped the LORD. They appointed some of their own people to serve as priests in the shrines on the high places. They were worshiping the LORD and at the same time serving their own gods in accordance with the practices of the nations from which they had been deported. To this very day they observe their earlier practices. They do not worship the LORD; they do not obey the rules, regulations, law, and commandments that the LORD gave the descendants of Jacob, whom he renamed Israel.
- 2 Kings 17:29, 32–34
This section of the Book of Kings characterized the Samaritans as foreign colonizers who had appropriated Israelite culture and religion before assimilating the elements that they liked into their own cosmopolitan culture centered in newly erected buildings. Essentially, the Samaritans were the white, gentrifying hipsters who took over the urban areas of their day.
To make matters worse, the colonizers intermarried with the Israelites from the Northern Kingdom who had been left behind in the land. In the minds of those from the southern Kingdom of Judah, such interracial marriages would only lead to the destruction of the Israelite family. Worse still, the Samaritans built a temple on a mountain called Mount Gerizim and dedicated this temple to the worship of Israel’s God. Those from Judah saw this temple as a rival to the their temple in Jerusalem.
Over the centuries the Israelites from the Kingdom of Judah were also conquered, exiled from their land and forced to watch the destruction of their temple because they abandoned their loyalty to God. When these Southern Israelites were permitted to return to the land of Judea, they consolidated the religious traditions from the Kingdom of Judah and thus formed a cohesive ethnoreligious identity into which all Israelites were invited to enter. Those who gave their loyalty to the political and religious leaders in the territory of Judea were referred to as Yehudim — a term which originally referred to local members of the ethnic tribe or geopolitical society, i.e. Judeans, but over time became primarily used to refer to global members of the religious society, i.e. Jews.
No Switching Sides (of the Mountain)
One of the most essential aspects of maintaining loyalty to one’s Judean/Jewish identity, was exhibiting loyalty to the temple on Mount Zion in Judea while also rejecting the temple on Mount Gerizim in Samaria. In fact, the disagreement about which mountain God had blessed to be the location for God’s temple was the central source of division between the Judean Jews and the Samaritans. The Jews pointed to the Book of Samuel in the Neviim (Prophets) section of the Tanakh and highlighted the promise that God made David that the temple would be built in Jerusalem. However, the Samaritans pointed to a much earlier passage from Deuteronomy in the Torah. The passage takes place at the end of a pivotal chapter, just before the section from chapter 12 to chapter 26 which recounts an exhaustive list of commandments. Here Moses declared that Mount Gerizim would be the location where God would place his blessing.
See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known.
It shall come about, when the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, that you shall place the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal.
- Deuteronomy 11:26–29
In part, because the Jews used the Neviim section of the Tanakh to contradict the Samaritan claim that the temple on Mount Gerizim was the true temple, the Samaritans only accepted the Torah as scripture and rejected the rest of the Tanakh including the Neviim section — which also happened to contain the disparaging portrayal of the Samaritans which we saw in 2 Kings 17.
As the Judeans acquired more autonomy from the ruling empires, the rivalry between the Jewish and Samaritan temples became openly hostile. This increased conflict can be seen in two books from the Ketuviim (Writings) section of the Tanakh. According to the Book of Ezra, after the Judeans refused to allow non-Judeans to help build the temple in Jerusalem, a Samaritan military leader named Rehum wrote a letter convincing the Persian Emperor to halt the construction of the temple in order to prevent the Judeans from banding together and revolting against the empire. Later, in the Book of Nehemiah, a different Samaritan official named Sanballat continuously mocked, harassed, and threatened an invasion against the Judeans who were rebuilding the city walls of Jerusalem. The invasion never came to fruition. However, the Book of Ezra clearly labeled the Samaritans as a threat which the Judeans would have to address one day.
The Judeans: The Oppressed Who Joined the Ranks of the Oppressors
Centuries later, after Alexander the Great defeated the Persian Empire, died suddenly, and left a fractured empire in the hands of his generals, the Judeans took advantage of the opportunity to revolt and re-established an independent southern kingdom around 111 BCE. As one of the first orders of the new kingdom, the Jewish chief priest John Hyrcanus hired mercenary soldiers, marched to Mount Gerizim and destroyed the Samaritan temple along with the neighboring town of Shechem. The priest’s army then besieged the city of Samaria for two years before completely destroying it and selling the citizens of Samaria into slavery. The hatred caused by these events became the low point of the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans. From then on, the two groups considered each other to be generational enemies and refused to even eat or drink water with each other.
Around one hundred years after the destruction of the Samaritan temple, Jesus was born into the ethnic tribe of Judah in a Judean town called Bethlehem where the great King David was raised. Furthermore, Jesus’s parents traced their lineage back to King David through King Solomon— the king who had built the original temple on Mount Zion. Thus, Jesus had more reason than most to take pride in his Judean identity.
Although Jesus was born in Judea, his family soon had to flee the land when Herod the Great — the client king of Judea who initiated extensive renovations to the rebuilt temple — issued orders to kill all boys who had been recently born in Bethlehem. Herod did this because he heard reports that the Messiah — the promised king of Judah — may have been born in that town. As a result, Jesus’s family then became political refugees living in Egypt for the first few years of Jesus’s life before eventually settling in a remote region called Galilee which was further north of Samaria and populated by people who, unlike the Samaritans, were not even Israelites. These foreign people — who the Jews referred to as “the Nations” (Greek: Ethnos, Latin: Gentilis) — had never known the God of Israel or learned to follow God’s commandments. For most of his first 30 years of life, Jesus lived in these outskirts in a town called Nazareth — a town which many Judeans mocked by asking “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).
Jesus: The Insider Who Joined the Ranks of the Outsiders
In many ways, Jesus’s humble upbringing counterbalanced the Judean royalty in his DNA. His life experiences proved to be quite formative in how Jesus related to ethnicity and power. Jesus was well acquainted with the problems inherent in exalting a human king to the place of highest loyalty. His family had been displaced and deeply affected by the wickedness of one such king. Judean power was worthless when the babies of Bethlehem were killed by a coward from their own people. At the same time, Jesus also recognized the problems of exalting geopolitical and ethnic identity to the place of highest loyalty. He lived in the shadow of those whose livelihoods had been destroyed by Judean pride or otherwise were ostracized from ever approaching the life-giving power of the God of Israel.
The writers of the gospels seem to have picked up on how Jesus’s way of life contrasted with the violent animosity that Judean Jews held toward their estranged Samaritan brothers. As a result, the writers all highlighted the ways in which Jesus subverted the ethnoreligious pride which had perpetuated hatred against the Samaritans.
Aside from the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the Gospel of Luke also contains the story where Jesus healed the ten lepers. One detail that is often overlooked in that story is that the healing takes place at a village in Samaria. This is an important detail because the story also mentions that when the ten lepers were walking to be examined by the priest so that they could be declared ritually pure, they noticed that their leprosy had been cured. Yet, while nine of them continued on their way to the priest, only one began to praise God before coming back to thank Jesus and humble himself by falling at Jesus’s feet. As it turns out, the one former leper who returned was a Samaritan while the nine that neglected to thank Jesus were Judeans. Ironically, the Samaritan — who Jesus referred to as a foreign outsider — immediately recognized that salvation — i.e. healing — was from the Lord while the nine Judeans who had greater access to God’s prophetic word were too focused on validating their ritual purity to submit themselves to the one who had purified them. Jesus thus praised the grateful Samaritan and declared that the Samaritan’s trust in the Lord had led to his healing.
While Jesus’s visit to Samaria in the Gospel of Luke went a long way toward undermining the Judean bias against Samaritans, it was a separate stop in Samaria told in the Gospel of John which finally addressed the root cause of the division between the Jews and the Samaritans.
Jesus left Judea and went back again to the region of Galilee. But He needed to pass through Samaria. So He comes to a Samaritan town called Shechem. So Jesus, exhausted from the journey, was sitting by the well. A Samaritan woman comes to draw water. “Give me a drink,” Jesus tells her. Then the Samaritan woman tells Him, “How is it that You, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (For Jewish people don’t deal with Samaritans.)
- John 4:3–9
In this story, Jesus visited a town called Shechem — the same town that the high priest John Hycranus had destroyed along with the temple on Mount Gerizim nearly 150 years earlier. Jesus surprised everyone around him by asking for water from a Samaritan — and not just any Samaritan but a Samaritan woman notorious for having been divorced five times before living with a sixth man out of wedlock. In a conservative, patriarchal society where contact with non-family members of the opposite gender was frowned upon, talking to a Samaritan woman with such a checkered past was unheard of. People would have assumed that any man who so much as looked at such a woman was engaged in an illicit relationship. Nonetheless, Jesus struck up a conversation with this ostracized woman and even revealed his true identity as God’s prophet. Jesus’s identity as a prophet then prompted the woman to ask Jesus about the long-standing disagreement about whether God’s temple should be on Mount Gerizim or Mount Zion.
“Sir,” the woman tells Him, “I see that You are a prophet! Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you all say that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus tells her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming — it is here now — when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people as His worshipers. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.
- John 4:19–24
A Temple of Bricks or a Temple of Human Bodies
Ironically, when asked to take sides on the temple debate, Jesus does not pick either mountain as having an exclusive claim to the worship of God. Jesus does acknowledge that salvation comes from the Jews, but that is only to point out that Jesus himself comes from the line of Judah. The salvation that Jesus spoke of would only happen when God’s Spirit filled the bodies of his followers — forming his people into a temple that would never be destroyed. By declaring that God had chosen humans to be his temple — not a building on Mount Zion or Mount Gerizim — Jesus was implicitly declaring that one could not be loyal to God if one was not loyal to other humans who were God’s temple. Given that Jesus was in the habit of inviting former enemies to be united into a single temple, those who want to follow Jesus are left with a choice: either forgive one’s enemies or forsake communion with God. Jesus thus used Samaria to illustrate the radical inclusiveness of his Good News and his mission to reconcile those who formerly were enemies. We see this usage of Samaria in the very last words that Jesus spoke to his disciples before ascending the throne of heaven and leaving his disciples to establish the church.
You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses (Greek: martys) in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
- Acts 1:8
After considering the significance of Samaria throughout the Jewish and Christian scriptures, one can now appreciate how ironic and subversive it was for Jesus’s parable to depict a Samaritan as the only person willing to show loyalty to an injured Jew. The Samaritan could have left the Jew to die as retribution for the Jews killing his ancestors. The Samaritan also could have used his acceptance of the Torah’s purity laws to justify his inaction like the priest and Levite had done. However, instead of being loyal to his own ethnic or religious identity the Samaritan chose to be loyal to his enemy and thus demonstrate his loyalty to God. This kind of loyalty is the embodiment of the unconditional, self-sacrificing love which the two great commandments require. Thus, to the one who asks “who is my neighbor”, the parable responds: everyone, including your enemy. This is the lesson which has for two millennia inspired numerous people to commit themselves to non-violence and explain Jesus’s wisdom on how true change is made possible.
Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. from his 1957 sermon “Loving Your Enemies”
MLK is likely the most famous American who took Jesus’s words seriously on a national stage. He was the leader that America needed but nonetheless left for dead. On “Mortal Man” Kendrick spoke of his desire to emulate leaders like MLK. Now that Kendrick knows what it takes to follow in their footsteps, the only question that remains is whether Kendrick will choose to be a King like Martin.
Deep in his heart, Kendrick wants to be loyal to God. However, he is beginning to realize that the pride he holds in himself, his family and his ethnic group is preventing him from following God’s commandments. Kendrick has a lot to lose if he chooses to humble himself under God’s rule. His status as king and pride in his black identity is exactly what enabled him to construct his own society of trustworthy people who will fight to keep his family close. Kendrick’s inner struggle between pride and humility thus leads directly into the outro of the song — sung by Rihanna.