I was a camp counsellor for a number of years when I was younger. Although I loved all of my campers equally, there were definitely some cabins that I loved more equally. One cabin had some of the most unique kids I’ve ever counselled. One of the kids (I’ll call him Paul) was funny and creative, and I’ll never forget what he did at our camp-out.
Apparently, Paul loved juice. He was pretty excited that we had some for the camp-out. But we had a rule that everyone only got one cup first, and then after those were given out we would see about seconds. Paul downed his juice in no time and asked for another cup right away. I told him that he would have to wait until everyone got their first cup, and then we would see if there was enough left over.
Instead of sitting down or playing with the other kids, Paul went into full servant mode. He picked up the jug of juice and the cups and went to all the other campers asking them if he could pour them a cup! I couldn’t help but laugh when he came to me a few moments later saying that everyone got some, so now he could have his second cup.
I had no choice but to say yes, even though I knew more sugar probably wasn’t the best idea. But Paul found a loophole - a way to work the system to get what he wanted. He didn’t actually have to wait patiently for more juice. He could be the juice-man to ensure he got seconds.
A good loophole can come in handy when we’re stuck in a tight spot - usually the spot of not wanting to do what we think we should. And it was exactly this kind of loophole that the religious expert in Luke 10 was trying to find in God’s command to love.
Perhaps you remember this story. A religious expert comes to Jesus to ask Him what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus flips the question on the man and asks him what the law says. The expert tells Jesus that the most important thing is to:
“‘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 neighbour as yourself.’” - Luke 10:27
Jesus agrees. But the expert wasn’t satisfied and asks Jesus to actually define who a “neighbour” is. In this command, there’s not a lot of room for loopholes with God. The Bible clearly says that there’s only one God and that we are to love that God with all that we have. But if we can define the word “neighbour” in a particular way, then we can work the system to follow the law without actually doing so.
In response to the expert’s search for a loophole, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. If you’ve never read it, please do. You can find it in Luke 10:25-37. Here is a short synopsis:
A man was walking along a road and was robbed, beaten, and left for dead. A priest came by and saw him, but he went to the other side of the road to avoid him. Another servant of the temple came and did the same, continuing on his way. Then came a Samaritan who took pity on the man and rushed to him, bandaged his wounds, and took him to an inn. He took care of all the man’s payments and even told the innkeeper that he would return to settle the account if there was anything more that the man needed.
Jesus asks the religious expert to tell Him who was a good neighbour to the beaten man. The expert responds by saying it was the one who had mercy. Jesus tells him to go do the same.
Pretty simply, right? Be nice to people. If they’re in need, help them out. But there’s something deeper here that Jesus is saying which we can only understand if we know the political and social climate of the day. The person who stopped and helped the man who was robbed and beaten was a Samaritan! That might not mean much to you, but I’m sure there was a collective gasp when Jesus included a Samaritan in the story. It would have been scandalous.
Jews and Samaritans were severe enemies. Samaritans were known as half-breeds: Jews who had married with Gentiles and were therefore impure. Samaritans created their own place of worship on Mount Gerizim and came to Jerusalem to desecrate the Jewish temple. The climate was not unlike what we see between North American Christians and Middle-Eastern Muslims today.
It is amazing that Jesus not only includes a Samaritan in this parable, but He makes the Samaritan the hero of the story. Jesus was telling Jews (who hated Samaritans) that the Samaritan acted as a good neighbour to the man who was robbed. The religious Jews who were probably too worried about keeping their purity, were not good neighbours to the man. And just like that, Jesus removes any hope of a loophole in the command to love our neighbours.
It doesn’t take me long to realize that I search for loopholes all the time. We have people whom it’s not hard to love, but we also have enemies, those who don’t see like us, who are trying to erode our way of life or even kill us. I can think of a few groups of people that it’s hard for me to love. The people who keep asking me for money on the street. Criminals who abuse people, especially children. Religious fundamentalists who use their faith as an excuse to divide or be violent. Or simply people who, because of different barriers, I don’t naturally get along with.
Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan makes it clear that the love of our neighbour breaks any ethnic, political, national, social, or religious boundaries. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus repeats this teaching, telling us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44).
I can’t find a loophole out of loving our neighbours like Jesus taught us to do. Our neighbours include everyone, even the enemies whom we despise. It’s a risky love, dangerous even. But we are called to live it out as a reflection of God’s love for the world. God’s love for the world has no loopholes. God never excludes anyone from relationship with Him. In fact, while we were still enemies of God, He decided to love us so much that He came into this world to lead us into His kingdom (Romans 5:10). When we decide that we want to be a part of that kingdom, we are called to reflect that love of God to the world.
That’s it. Plain and simple. Love God and love your neighbour. Who’s your neighbour? Everyone. Yes, even your enemies. No loopholes.