An Uncommon Perspective on Love from the Parable of the Good Samaritan
Part of my internship is to be a part of this adult small group. In this group, we are going through the book, Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi by Amy-Jill Levine. It was during yesterday morning’s discussion of chapter two (that I hadn’t yet read) that I came across something profound. After reading the pages necessary for this realization later on that night, I realized that it spoke to something I had already been mulling over for months now and I felt inspired and led to share.
Levine has an eye-opening perspective to the popular parable of the Good Samaritan, or the Good Neighbor, as I like to call it. While we may want to discuss all day long on how this parable calls us to be better neighbors to each other, Levine makes an interesting point that first-century Jews, as was Jesus’s audience, would never have identified with the Samaritan, but with the man (assumed to be a Jew) that was beaten and left for dead in a ditch. This is because the Samaritans were a hated enemy of the Jews and were seen as murderers, rapists, and oppressors. Therefore, first century Jewish listeners were more likely to have (uncomfortably and perhaps with quite an amount of difficulty) seen Jesus’s parable as a lesson in humility, mercy, and love because, to them, it was a story of accepting help from one’s enemy. Knowing this, it is possible that the deeper meaning that Jesus was getting at through telling this parable is not that we need to love others better or even that we need to love all people, but it is a teaching that instructs us that we need to be able to accept love from others, even our enemies at times. This is an even more profound perspective when we ask ourselves, if we are called to accept love from our enemies (which is asking what seems to be the impossible) then surely isn’t it easy to accept love from our friends? Maybe, but that is not always the case.
There is one key element to what it means to accept love in this story. That element is trust. The wounded man had to trust the Samaritan. He had no choice but to trust his enemy when he was at his most vulnerable. Being stripped of both his dignity and his possessions left him in a position where he had to trust that he wouldn’t be further hurt or even killed. Furthermore, as an echo, the Samaritan had to trust the innkeeper to take care of the wounded man until such time as the Samaritan could make it back to him. Trust is intimately intertwined with the receiving of help and ultimately, the receiving of love.
Most of us have deep insecurities and fears that whisper or perhaps even scream in our ears telling us to trust no one. Maybe it was because another relationship ended badly. Maybe it’s because we’ve trusted before, we’ve allowed ourselves to be vulnerable before and we got hurt. Maybe the pain of that hurt still echoes in our hearts as a dull ache that never seems to fade. This may tempt us to never allow ourselves to be fully loved or known in a misguided though, understandable and natural attempt to guard our hearts against further pain. From that then, we may be tempted to go throughout life only giving love to others but never being comfortable with receiving love in return. At least this way, we don’t really have to trust others. And if we don’t really trust others then no one can really hurt us. Surely a relationship can survive this way, as long as I’m doing my best to love the other person, right?
Wrong. Regardless of whatever good reason or justification we may have for living our lives this way, we must realize that no one can rely on only giving love to others and never receiving it for themselves. This is because we must first receive God’s love before we are to love God or to love others, and because trust is intimately connected with receiving love, we must trust Him. Furthermore, we cannot love others well if we do not allow ourselves to be loved. And we cannot receive love without trusting the one who gives it. Trusting that they don’t have any ulterior motives. Trusting that they are actually trying to love you with an agape love only God can provide. If Jesus calls us to receive love then He also calls us to trust. To guard our hearts at all times even within our own relationships is to put up a wall between your heart and the love others are trying to give you. Ultimately, this leads us to be slaves to our fears and insecurities. And Jesus ‘s work on the cross has freed us from all of our bonds.
The Good Samaritan acted (loved) how God does and the wounded man received that love how we are called to receive love. You see, it’s easier to give love. We can control the who, when and where while also keeping an emotionally safe distance. It makes us feel good to give love, it’s more natural, it’s non-threatening. And when things seem to be going wrong in our relationships, we think the answer is to give more love. And we strive and strive and strive until we feel we are loving all that we can and we’re exhausted. We’re emotionally drained because we’re giving love out of our own strength, out of our own limited reserve until it runs out and it still doesn’t seem to be good enough. But we never realize that it was never about loving or caring more. It was about allowing God to love us and tapping into His unlimited reserves. It was about allowing other people to love us and showing them that we loved them enough to let down our walls and let them into the holy space that is our very souls. It was about trusting those people to tread carefully and to love us well. That’s harder. Because we can’t control other people. Because it’s scary. Because it involves a level of intimacy and vulnerability that the world has told us is too dangerous and not worth the risk. But nothing is worthwhile without risk, without faith, and without struggles that help you to grow.
When we’re beaten down and left for dead in a ditch, God sends us people to shine His light and love through. While we may want to control who those people are and how far we let those people into the essence of who we are, we aren’t called to reject God’s love nor are we called to put limits on it. We aren’t called to listen to those tiny voices that tell us it’s not worth it. Voices that tell us that that person couldn’t possibly love us the way God has called them to love us because of (insert reason here). And if we aren’t careful, if we let those voices reign over our heads and our hearts, soon we may find ourselves ceasing to view our friends through God’s eyes and instead start seeing them as people that can’t be trusted. That friend who was kind, generous, loyal and loving suddenly becomes that person who was controlling, manipulative, and always wanting something from you. Our perspective gets warped and perverted as the enemy seizes an opportunity to destroy a relationship meant to be full of light and love with the darkness that is fear, insecurity, and sin. Suddenly we may find ourselves justifying throwing away the relationships God so lovingly and thoughtfully gave to us because we have allowed ourselves to become spiritually blind and deaf to the good God was doing in those relationships, letting it be drowned out by the lies of darkness.
Yes, we are called to love. We are called to be good neighbors to everyone. But we are also called to be loved. To be loved by God and to be loved by others. We are called to trust God with our hearts by trusting the people He has sent to us; the ones that only want to cherish our vulnerable and scarred hearts we gave permission for Him to place in their hands. I’m not saying it will be perfect. We’ll make mistakes. We’ll miss the mark with our best intentions and we’ll speak death even when we strive to speak life, but guess what? It is hard to learn how to love and it is even harder to allow ourselves to be loved in return. But it’s a process. Like everything else, to be a disciple of Jesus is to learn His ways and a major part of that is to learn how to love and how to be loved in return. God has given each of us the grace, mercy, and patience to forgive those who mess up trying to love us as they learn just what that means. He has also given us the grace, mercy, and patience to forgive those who grieve us when they get scared and put up walls, refusing to trust by shutting us out, for they are also learning what it means to be loved in return.
It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to mess up. But please, don’t give up on loving others. Don’t give up on being loved. Don’t give up when the relationships God has given you get hard because you’re both in the process of trying to learn what love truly means. God gives us the courage to be vulnerable again after we’ve been broken. Have faith that the people that God has put in your path are there because He wants to love you through them. Trust Him with your heart because He knows exactly whose hands to place it in.