“But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
What are your favorite Bible stories? Mine are always the stories that reveal God’s love is boundless and will defy even the restrictions that we try to place upon it. The Good Samaritan is one of those. Are the righteous not supposed to touch an unclean man by the side of the road…not supposed to associate with religious outsiders…Jesus confronts us with a story that turns righteousness on its head. Or maybe you prefer the Woman at the well. Are men not supposed to talk to women…Are Jews too good to associate with Samaritans…Does everyone know better than to be at the well in the middle of the day…Should anyone acknowledge the “bad girl” in the community? Then of course that’s where Jesus shows up and transforms an entire community by showing love to this outcast. There are so many stories of God showing up to people that we think are unworthy.
For me, this is what makes Jesus worth following. I can trust God’s love for me precisely because it cannot be earned or forfeited. It is this boundlessness (the fact that God’s love is not limited by the privilege or oppression to which we are born, nor by my personal or societal brokenness, my cultural beliefs or even my sin) that allows me to believe that God can love me. That God’s love can redeem the world.
The moment when God’s love becomes conditional (becomes bound) it loses all hope for me. Partly because I know that I can never live up to being “worthy”. But the bigger reason is that it would make God into our own image. Conditional love is the problem of the human condition. A god who operates like that would seem feckless, unpredictable and unjust precisely because of the favoritism and hierarchy that would ensue. For God to create people at an inherent disadvantage and then punish them for it would be cruel and would not stand out against human behavior or society in a way that would be worth giving my life to.
In Genesis we are told that God looked at ALL God had made and declared it good. Declared it lovable. Yes, Romans also tells us that ALL have sinned. We also know that Christ died for ALL, drawing us back into the declaration made over all of creation: that we are valuable because God values us.
So, take some time to reflect on who you have deemed unlovable. Who in your life is “untouchable” or beyond hope. Our boundaries can be simple (we’re dog people and I can’t stand cat people) or they can be complex, involving class, religion, race, gender, ableism, politics and mental health. Maybe we deem parts of our own lives unredeemable. Sometimes we can convince ourselves that there is a part of us that God cannot love. The challenge today is to be present to these forsaken spaces and invite God into them. If we watch, we may find God turning our worlds upside down…and we might be better for it.
To find neighbors where we least expect them.
And to be marked as Christ’s disciples by the increasingly boundless nature of our love.