“On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’ He answered: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’ But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, And who is my neighbor?’” - Luke 10:25-29
This famous interchange between Jesus and a lawyer is the reason Jesus went on to relate the Parable of the Good Samaritan which ends with the command, “Go and do likewise.” Jesus chose a Samaritan, hated by the Jews, to be the hero of His story, for this “foreigner” (Luke 17:18) was the one who proved to be a good neighbor to a man he had never met before and who was, presumably, a Jew whose fellow Jews (both a priest and a Levite) had failed to help. The lawyer had wanted to legalistically limit the scope of those who had a claim on his compassion and help. By this limited standard, he thought he could measure up to God’s law. What Jesus did was expose the narrow and selfish interpretation upon which the lawyer was hoping to win his case in the Day of Judgment.
Since that time to this, the Parable of the Good Samaritan has served to instruct us in the universality of our obligation to care for our fellow humans, whatever their ethnicity, creed or condition. The lawyer asked, “And who is my neighbor?” but there is another question the answer to which is vitally important if we are truly to love our neighbor: “And what is my neighbor?” In other words, what is a human being? How do we love a human being? The nature of man is a real issue in how we go about loving our fellow humans.
If human beings are only animals then we care for them only as we ought to care for animals. The Bible enjoins upon us care for animals: “A righteous man cares for the life of his animal…” (Proverbs 12:10) The Bible forbids muzzling the ox while he threshes the grain (Deuteronomy 25:4) and commands a weekly day of rest not only for people but also for their animals (Exodus 23:12). An animal’s needs are important to God (Matthew 10:20), but they are not made in God’s image and likeness as humans are. God created all the animals and then He created man, both male and female, in His image. (Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1-2; James 3:9) This means that we share with God certain attributes that we do not share with the animals, such as reason, a free will and a need for fellowship with God. Our souls are designed to be shaped into conscious, willing reflectors of God’s glory. Sin has, however, marred the mirror and so we need melting, remolding and polishing before we can reflect God’s glory as originally intended. Animals neither need nor desire salvation from sin. Their needs are for shelter, food, family life (of a sort) and protection from their enemies. We share such needs with them but we need something more. It is quite true that all too many of us are seemingly content only to have our animal needs met, but when we awaken to our humanness we cannot be content only with these temporal goods. We were created for something much higher, and better.
To be sure, we are called and commanded to care for the animal needs of humans, for we are, in fact, animals! We are physical beings who share many of the attributes and necessities of animals. But we are not mere animals. Humans are kin not only to animals but also to angels. In fact, God desires that we should one day be much more “like the angels” than we are now. (Luke 20:34-36) Believers in Christ are now somewhat like Pinocchio, the animated wooden puppet, who hoped someday to become a “real live boy”. As the Bible says, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” - (John 3:2-3) This being the case, if we confine our concern for our fellow humans to their temporal needs, needs they share with the animals, we demean them and fail to truly love them.
When God’s people obey Him in seeking justice for the poor, the sick, the oppressed and persecuted, the world understands and applauds (so long as they are not inconvenienced by such efforts). But when believers present the claims of Christ and try to persuade people to trust in Him as their Lord and Savior, the world is unimpressed or even hostile. This should not surprise or discourage us. It is quite true that many in the past and some even now, ignore or even deny the need for Christians to pursue social justice.
However, the pendulum has started swinging in the opposite direction among many Christians today. We should beware lest we lose our grip on the part of the gospel that is less welcomed by the world. The consequence of failing to do this is that we will fail to love our neighbor as made in God’s image with profound needs that transcend this present world. We are called to love our fellow humans holistically, as having both bodies and souls, having eternal as well as temporal needs, as animals that are uniquely equipped and called to one day become “like the angels” and like our heavenly Lord.
- James Healton, Pastor