Love Without Limits

It was my second summer living in downtown Chicago, and the evening commute had become my sanctuary. As I descended the stairs of the train station, the familiar smell of sweat and urine assaulted my senses. It was loud, as always, with the rush of busy feet and impatient passengers. But there was something different about this day. In the middle of the noise, a strange and unsettling commotion began to rise above everything else. As I inched closer to the exit doors, I saw them. There was a woman crouched into a ball in the corner of the sidewalk and a man standing over her aggressively spouting vitriol and shaking his fist, but you wouldn’t have known it by watching the people passing by. There was no reaction; just blank expressions as each person hurried past on their way home. All the while this woman screamed helplessly.

I was terrified and enraged and grieved. Heat rose to my face and my heart crammed itself into my throat. I had so many emotions, but for some reason, I couldn’t get my feet to stop walking.

That’s right. I walked right past them. Just like everyone else.

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There’s a story just like this one in the Bible. In Luke 10, Jesus gets into an interesting exchange with a smarty pants. In a battle of wits, the man tests Jesus by asking him, “What should I do to inherit eternal life?” And like a master tennis player, Jesus lobs the question right back. The man answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.” He then goes on to ask Jesus, “But who is my neighbor?” To answer his question, Jesus tells a story.

There’s an injured man lying on the side of the road who had been badly beaten and robbed and left for dead when three men pass by. The first is a priest who sees the man and crosses to the other side of the road. The second is a Levite (or temple assistant) who does the same as the priest. They most likely did this because it was thought that you would become unclean simply by touching the shadow of a dead man. These first two men held some of the most highly respected religious positions of their day, but their concern with the law inhibited their ability to love. The third man to pass by was a Samaritan. Historically, Samaritans had a hostile relationship with the Jews. They didn’t share the same religious beliefs as the Jews and were seen as heretics by God’s chosen people. Yet this Samaritan - this heretic - is the one who cares for the man.

So Jesus asks the smarty pants, “Which of these three was a neighbor to the attacked man?”

Notice that he can’t even say “the Samaritan.” He answers, “The one who showed him mercy.”

“Now go and do the same,” says Jesus. Go and be like the Samaritan. Love without limits. This may be one of the most provocative statements Jesus makes. He’s saying, “You know those people who you think are heretical and disgusting? They are your neighbors.”

It’s not only the people who think like us, who look like us, who believe the things we do, who vote the way we do, or who live in our tax bracket. It’s also the people who have different moral standards, who hold an opposing worldview and belief system, and who vote for the politician we don’t like. They are our neighbors.

If I take a magnifying glass to my life, I’m ashamed at what I see. That woman I saw being abused outside of the train station? I would have stopped if she had been wearing nicer clothes, or if she smelled better, or probably even if she had different color skin. Jesus calls me to more, and he’s doing the same for you too. He’s calling us to love without limits.