The greeting card aisles at the supermarkets are filled with hearts and flowers, and the candy aisles are all about chocolate in heart-shaped boxes. And the florists are working on their biggest day of the year–those bouquets of long-stemmed red roses keep them in business! (When I was a bride, my husband brought home such a bouquet–to the delight of our cat Felix, who thought rose petals were the ultimate in gourmet cat treats.)
Felix loved roses, and we humans love the cards and the candy–but is that the kind of love our Lord kept talking about all through the Bible? When Jesus said we are to love our neighbor, did he mean we’re supposed to feel all sweet and sentimental about them and send them flowers and candy? But what if we don’t actually like them? Or what if we think they shouldn’t even be our neighbor? What then?
Everybody is our neighbor
Jesus doesn’t make distinctions: Everybody is our neighbor, whether we want them to be our neighbor or not. Think about the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). Remember how the respectable people let the injured man just lie there at the side of the road, and then the Samaritan came along and helped? If the respectable people had come across the Samaritan, they would have crossed to the other side of the street and sneered.
Leave the injured man out of it for a minute (the Samaritan took care of him already). What’s so nasty about Samaritans? Why do the respectable people hate them? Their history was a little different than the others. Their ancestors had not been driven into exile into Babylon hundreds of years before Jesus’ time. But they had been left behind in the devastated countryside of Israel.
As time went on, the Samaritans’ ways and the exiles’ ways diverged, but not too far. Once the exiles returned, they and the Samaritans were still close enough to recognize each other as related, but they were different enough to despise each other for it.
Love isn’t about emotion; it’s about action. That’s how we love our neighbors, no matter how we feel about them. We do the right thing for them.
Love is action
We know the Samaritans worshipped God on their holy mountain, not at the temple in Jerusalem (see John 4:7-9, 19-22). We can imagine that the Samaritans wore different clothes, spoke with a different accent, liked different food.
So back to the parable. Did the Samaritan and the injured man love each other; that is, did they feel all sweet and sentimental about each other? I doubt it. They’d probably been raised to be suspicious of each other. But suspicious or not, the Samaritan did the right thing. He treated the man with respect, generosity, and kindness. That was how he loved his neighbor, whether they liked each other or not.
Love isn’t about emotion; it’s about action. That’s how we love our neighbors, no matter how we feel about them. We do the right thing for them. Flowers and candy, sweet as they are, are nowhere near as sweet as doing the right thing.
How can we do the right thing for a neighbor today?
Audrey Riley is director for stewardship for Women of the ELCA.
Art: Conti, G.. Parable of the Good Samaritan, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.