There once was a man traveling the 15-mile stretch from Jerusalem to Jericho, heading to some other destination beyond. He brought along his donkey, perhaps because it was too far to walk, perhaps because he had too much to carry. Probably both. At some point, he came upon a stranger who had been beaten and bloodied by robbers—mercilessly left for dead on the side of the road. Filled with compassion, the traveler rushed to this stranger’s aid, taking oil and wine from his personal provisions to tend to his open wounds. Who knows which item of his own clothing the traveler was forced to tear up to fashion makeshift bandages?
Having slowed the bleeding and done the best he could with whatever other injuries he found, the traveler was forced to make a decision: What should he do with the suffering stranger? Surely he couldn’t leave him at the roadside. So he did the hard thing, lifting the bloodied man onto the back of the donkey and continuing his journey on foot—perhaps even carrying whatever supplies he had removed from the back of the beast in order to make room for the injured victim.
No doubt hours behind schedule, the traveler eventually stopped for the night at a roadside inn, where he paid for the stranger’s accommodations as well. The next morning, before continuing on his journey, he left additional money with the innkeeper along with these instructions: Please nurse this man back to health, and if your expenses exceed what I have paid you, I will reimburse you when I come back through this way.
Jesus taught this parable about the kindly Samaritan and the unfortunate Jew to help us understand what love looks like. If he told it today, it might be about a Muslim and an Evangelical Christian, a Democrat and a Republican, a Palestinian and an Israeli. It is a story about compassion, about bearing the burdens of others, about inconvenience, interruption, generosity. It illustrates what we mean by “the pure love of Christ.”
Elsewhere in scripture we find other detailed descriptions of what love looks like. On another occasion, Jesus said that love is feeding the hungry, giving shelter to strangers, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, reaching out to those who are in prison. It’s treating the poor, the homeless, refugees and other victims of misfortune as you would treat Him—as if He and they were essentially the same person.
In Paul’s well-known letter to the Corinthians, he said love is patience, kindness, and celebrating the success of others. It’s humility and respect. It’s looking out for those around you and always giving them the benefit of the doubt. It’s celebrating truth. It’s tolerating, believing, and hoping, enduring whatever might come your way.
I’ve known many people who have shown me what this sort of love looks like. Through their selfless generosity of spirit, they have come to embody for me a real-life ideal of what I’m striving to become. I return to their stories again and again, perhaps as an antidote to the hate and unkindness that seems to dominate public discourse. Their examples lift and inspire me, urge me to try to be better myself.
In all of this I hear again an essential message and mandate directed to all of us who say that we are “trying to be like Jesus.” Because of love, you should be able to spot His true followers anywhere people gather: at the park, in the grocery store, at a school board meeting, at a football game—even on social media. In fact, you should not have to look very hard. Jesus gave us a simple way to spot the true believers: “By this shall all men know ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).
Image: Ferdinand Hodler, The Good Samaritan (1875)