In a world where love is in increasingly short supply, Jesus’ message to “love thy enemy” too often can seem out of place. After all, many of us feel surrounded by “enemies.” Over and above the usual cast of folks who have wronged us or a member of our families personally, these days issues of politics and culture have become particularly divisive, even tribal. Whatever our political leanings, its seems that folks on the other side of the spectrum are no longer interested in winning a debate or convincing us that our view is wrong-footed. Now, it feels like the objective is to wipe us out, defund us, cancel us, silence us permanently. Tribal warfare has broken out. How can we possibly love people from another “tribe” who want us silenced? And even if we did, how much could it possibly change things? Maybe this “love thy enemy” stuff was made for a different era.
Or maybe not.
Jesus’ vivid parable of the Good Samaritan, the man who takes a chance and helps an enemy, a member of the “other tribe” (in this case, a Jew), is probably one of his most remembered, and most well-known, stories, one that even non-believers can outline the basic elements of. A man travelling along a dangerous road, comes across another who has been severely beaten and robbed by a group of road-side ruffians. The traveler is a Samaritan; the man he finds near death on the road, a Jew. An enemy, if you will. Even a “non-person”. He is in such bad shape that several of his own countrymen have already passed him by, leaving him to die. Only the Samaritan stops to help. In so doing, he saves a life, for sure. But he also in some ways saves his own life, his eternal life. He becomes more like God. He embodies Love.
This simple story is one of the most studied in the art world. Last night, we reflected on just five of the dozens of renditions over the centuries of “The Good Samaritan.”
Loving can be scary
In Jacopo Bassano’s 16th century take on The Good Samaritan, painted as Europe was devolving literally into warfare between Protestants and Catholics, love seems scary. The landscape is dark, night is falling. In the far distance (over the Samaritan’s left shoulder), a marauder, or perhaps the Rabbi who had passed the injured man by, is leaving the scene. Half the canvas is already enveloped in darkness. Night, and danger, are upon the two men in the foreground. The injured man seems a hopeless case, near death-- his body is pale, his life is bleeding out before them. The Samaritan nonetheless jumps to his aid, loving this stranger simply because he is in need. He is determined to do the right thing here, whatever the risks. Love is like that. It often entails taking great risks, making ourselves vulnerable, with no apparent reward in site. Love requires us to overcome our fears.
How often do I allow the fear of rejection, or embarrassment, or even of physical danger, get between me and love?