One of my favorite authors is a man by the name of Gordon MacDonald. He writes a regular column in a magazine I used to subscribe to. One of my favorite stories by him that gives a great example of what it means to love your neighbor.
“Gail, and I were in an airplane flying to Boston. We were seated almost at the back of the airliner in the two aisle seats across from each other. As the plane loaded up, a woman with two small children came down the aisle to take the seat right in front of us. And behind her, another woman. The two women took the A and C seats, and one of the children sat in the middle seat, and the second child was on the lap of one of the women. I figured these were two mothers traveling together with their kids, and I hoped the kids wouldn’t be noisy.”
“The flight started, and my prayer wasn’t answered. The two children had a tough time. The air was turbulent, the children cried a lot—their ears hurt—and it was a miserable flight. I watched as these two women kept trying to help and comfort these children. The woman at the window played with the child in the middle seat, trying to make her feel good and paying lots of attention.”
“I thought, These women get a medal for what they are doing. But things went downhill from there. As we got towards the last part of the flight, the child in the middle seat got sick. The next thing I knew she was losing everything from every part of her body. The diaper wasn’t on tight, and before long a stench began to rise through the cabin. It was unbearable!”
“I could see over the top of the seat that indescribable stuff was all over everything. It was on this woman’s clothes. It was all over the seat. It was on the floor. It was one of the most repugnant things I had seen in a long time.”
“I watched as the woman next to the window patiently comforted the child and tried her best to clean up the mess and make something out of a bad situation. The plane landed, and when we pulled up to the gate all of us were ready to exit that plane as fast as we could. The flight attendant came up with paper towels and handed them to the woman in the window seat and said, ‘Here, Ma’am, these are for your little girl.’”
“The woman said, ‘This isn’t my little girl.’”
“Aren’t you traveling together?”
“‘No, I’ve never met this woman and these children before in my life.’ Suddenly I realized this woman had just been merciful. A lot of us would have just died in this circumstance. She had found the opportunity to give mercy. She was, in the words of Christ, ‘the person who was the neighbor.’”
To be perfectly honest, I would be one of those people who just died in this circumstance. We’ve all either heard about or seen great examples of kindness and mercy. Often the people that showed such kindness and mercy are said to have gone “above and beyond” in the way the kindness and mercy they showed. If I were to describe the woman in the Gordon MacDonald’s story, I would certainly say she had gone “above and beyond” in helping the other woman.
What is expected of us as Christians in regards to showing mercy and kindness to others? How far are we to go in helping those in need? What if, as Christians, what others called going “above and beyond” is merely what Jesus expects of us?
Jesus said that the most important commandment was to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind. He then said that the second was like it and it was to love our neighbor as we love our selves. Jesus went on to say that all the Law and the Prophets hung on these two commands (Matt 22:37-40). The phrase “Law and the prophets” was used to represent all of God’s Word. What Jesus was saying was that if we love God with all our heart, soul and mind and love our neighbors as we love ourselves, then we will fulfill all of what Scripture demands of us.
The Ten Commandments are the basis of all the moral commands in Scripture. The first four deal with our relationship and responsibilities toward God. The last six deal with our relationship and responsibilities toward others. All the rest of the moral commands in Scripture, New and Old Testaments, flow out of these ten. If I love the Lord with all my heart, soul and mind, then I will obey the first four commands in the Ten Commandments and all the other commands in the rest of Scripture that deal with my relationship and responsibility toward God. If I love my neighbor as I love myself, then I will fulfill the last six commands of the Ten Commandments and all the other commands in the rest of Scripture that deal with my relationship and responsibilities toward others.
A major part of what this means is that our every failure is a failure to love. When I sin or fail in my relationship and responsibilities toward God, it is always because I love someone or something more than I love God. When I sin or fail in my relationship and responsibilities towards others, it is always because I don’t love them as I should. This means that everything in the Christian life rises and falls on love, our love for God and our love for our neighbor. Since this is the case, then we desperately need to know what these things mean and what they look like when they are lived out in our lives. This week I am going to explore what it means to love or neighbor as we love ourselves.
For further study read Luke 10:25-37.
Why did Jesus tell this story?
Who was the neighbor in this story?
What is the point of this story?