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I suspect you cannot properly love God without loving your neighbor nor properly love your neighbor without loving God.

I believe loving God and loving neighbor are intrinsically connected. I believe this is why Jesus mentioned both in the same breath as the greatest commandments (Matt. 22:37-40). I suspect you cannot properly love God without loving your neighbor nor properly love your neighbor without loving God. One possible insight from the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is that showing mercy to those in need is one way of loving God.

Sometimes altruism or kindness to others can be self-love in disguise. We might love others only to ultimately derive benefit for ourselves, whether that be self-promotion or even gaining “brownie points” from God. This might even occur unconsciously or subconsciously. A test of whether our love is genuine is if it costs us to love.

For the Good Samaritan, it was costly indeed. First, it cost him time and a change of plans as he stopped from his travels in order to help the wounded man on the road. He used care and his own resources to bandage the man’s wounds, pouring oil and wine. He put the wounded man on his donkey, which meant that he had to walk instead. He took the man to an inn and took care of him for the day. The next day, he paid the innkeeper two denarii, which was two days’ wages back then. This amounted to about three-and-a-half weeks’ worth of stay, given that an average inn’s daily rate back then was about one-twelfth of a denarius (according to IVP New Testament Commentary). This is a lot of money.

Then he promised the innkeeper to reimburse him any additional expenses. I do not think we modern folks fully appreciate the great risk here. In those days a debtor could be sold into slavery or imprisoned if he could not repay his debts (see Matt. 18:22-35). The Samaritan, therefore, took a huge risk by agreeing to reimburse the innkeeper of any further expenses.

Furthermore, we must not forget that the Samaritan was traveling in enemy territory, where the inhabitants likely despised him. Just one chapter prior, Jesus’ own disciples were quick to offer calling fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village (Luke 9:51-56). The Samaritan was risking his life, or at least risking injury, by bringing a half-dead Jewish man into a Jewish town. Would the Jews think he was responsible for the man’s wounds? Imagine if a Black man, during the Jim Crow era, were to carry a half-dead white man into a white town in the rural U.S. south. Black men have been lynched for far less.

Jesus held up this story of costly love as our model of what it means to be a neighbor. Genuine love is willing to pay the cost to love. An act is possibly not love if there is no cost, sacrifice, or even risk involved. For example, telling people online to repent or correcting their theology while remaining safe and anonymous behind a screen is not love. Much better examples of love are in the article, “Conservative Compassion” (p. 10). I also respect and admire those who have been hurt, even traumatized, by fellow Christians, but still seek to love in return. That is costly love. I confess I often fall short.

Jesus’ love for us is costly. It cost him death on a cross. This Easter, thank God for his costly love.

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