Early last week I visited the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. THEY GAVE THEIR LIVES is an engraving across the top of the entrance to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The words and the monument are symbolic of a love story our nation continues to tell each day at the War Memorial. It’s a love story about costly action, and it was the cost of that particular action that got me thinking again about a question.
John says, "So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters" (1 John 3:16). John believes that love compels us to be participants in the action of giving up our lives for our brothers and sisters. But it's a costly action, and it’s at the tomb (yes both of them, you saw what I did there, right?), that the cost becomes so dark, lonely, and hard.
The darkness leads us to think that some people might not be worth it (don’t judge me, you’ve met some of those people yourself), and the high cost of giving up our lives leads us to try and work out if they are our brothers and sisters or not.
Or in other words, the cost of action invites us to ask John who we have to love.
It’s complicated; how do you decide who your brothers and sisters are? Will they be your literal brothers and sisters (seems fair) or the people you spend the most time with? Is it something about them? Is there something they have to do? Or are they the people that live in your postcode or country? Is it just your community of faith or is there a bigger vision to be had?
Where we land on those questions will depend not only on who we are but also where we are in the world. Which is why a conversation in Luke’s gospel, between a lawyer and Jesus, has had such a drastic impact on how I answer this question for myself. We pick up the story with a lawyer wanting to know how to live a good life, a full life, or in other words, an eternal life. And after a little back and forth discussion, we discover that the two agree that a vital aspect of living this kind of life is loving one’s neighbor. Which is excellent, they agree. But then the text says...
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29 NRSV)
Luke alerts us to this guy’s agenda. The whole point of their polite back and forth is that the lawyer thinks that he and Jesus would disagree on who their neighbors are. They would have different answers for who you have to love. Maybe like you and me.
So the lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbor?” And it triggers a story, one that’s usually referred to as the parable of the good Samaritan. Jesus tells of a man who is robbed and beaten while on a journey from one city to another. Two further characters are added to this drama, but they are unable or unwilling to stop and lend a hand and so become passers-by. The story finishes with a Samaritan stopping, helping the injured man, and taking responsibility for his care. Which is why most people talk about this story as if it’s about the importance of helping people who are in trouble (which is great, don’t get me wrong). But remember, the story has been told because the lawyer had wanted to know who his neighbor was. So Jesus finishes the story with,
"Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” (Luke 10:36 NRSV)
Because Jesus is hoping you notice the difference.
You see the question the lawyer asks at the start is: Who is my neighbor?
The question Jesus asks is: Who was the neighbor?
It’s a small tweak, but it changes everything. It’s as if Jesus says it’s not about them, it’s about you. This helps us change our initial question.
From: Who are my brothers and sisters?
To: Will I be a brother or sister?
When it comes to love, it seems that Jesus is calling us to something way more significant than figuring out who is worth loving, because it’s not about them...
It's about You.
Love Made Me Do It… by Josh Goss
Josh Goss is a follower of Jesus, a husband to Wendy, the father of two boys and a high school chaplain at Macquarie College in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia. This article originally appeared on the author’s blog and is reprinted here with permission.
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