The Good ISIS Member

If you are at all familiar with what I’ve written on this blog, or if you are familiar with my take on the Christian life, then you will know that I think it is a pretty big deal that we (Christians) should be peacemakers. We should be a people who are committed to bringing God’s kingdom to earth as it is in heaven, and that kingdom is a kingdom of peace. Now I think (that Jesus thinks) a big part of this is loving all people, and that “all people” even includes our enemies. When I talk about this I will often get two objections:

1) You should love your neighbor, but I’m not sure when Jesus says that bit He also means my enemies as well.

2) I can love my enemy but that doesn’t mean that I have to not harm them like you say it means.

When it comes to number one, these people usually aren’t satisfied with the idea that loving a neighbor necessarily means loving the bad guys or our enemies. They will define neighbor in a more restrictive sense. I mean surely Jesus can’t be telling us to love ISIS or Hitler!

When it comes to number two, essentially they are saying, “I have to love them, not like them.” Or that you can still love an enemy while putting a bullet in them. Sure I should love them, but what does loving someone even look like? It’s not very specified. I mean if Jesus is telling us to love ISIS or Hitler He surely can’t mean that we shouldn’t use violence to stop them if we can!

So I would like to respond to these two objections by taking a look at one parable Jesus tells. I think that this parable kills both of those birds with one stone. This story that we are going to talk about will (in my mind) answer perfectly both of those two objections. And it’s my hope that after reading this you will not only be convinced that your worst enemies, your family’s worst enemies, and America’s worst enemies count as people Jesus wants you to love, but also that loving them means caring for them as if they were yourself. Feeling uncomfortable yet? I know the feeling. Let’s see how well I do.

The parable I want to talk about is pretty famous. Most people who wouldn’t identify as Christian have at least heard of it. It’s the parable of the good Samaritan. For the sake of keeping this post shorter (and saving myself a little work) I don’t plan to put any of the actual passage in this post, so to really get the full effect I would encourage you to read it all the way through once to get the idea. You can go ahead and do that here.

Let’s start by just setting the scene. Jesus is just chilling, being the Son of God and whatnot, when a man who is described as an “expert in the law” asks Him a question in order to test Him. He asks Jesus what it is that one must do to inherit eternal life. In typical Jesus fashion, He decides to start off by responding with a question instead of an answer. Jesus asks this expert how he understands and reads the law. The expert goes along with the question and responds by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”Jesus seems pretty pleased with this because He tells the expert that he is right and that if he does this then he will live. So far so good, but what happens next is what really gets the action going. The passage then says, “But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”

Oh no he didn’t! You see, this expert was having the same issue that my good pal objection number 1 was having. He agreed that the law said you should love your neighbor, but he wasn’t super clear on who qualified as his “neighbor.” The text even says that he asked that question because he was wanting to justify himself. Clearly this guy was excluding some people from being his neighbor and he wanted to get the green light for doing so. Jesus doesn’t at all give him what he is looking for. In fact Jesus doesn’t even really answer his question. Instead He tells the expert a story.

Now I’m assuming that you’ve read the passage for yourself already. If you haven’t then seriously do it. It’s right here. I’ve done all the hard work for you so just click it. If you don’t want to, then just click this mysterious link. It’s super mysterious and cool. You know that you want to.

Okay now that I’ve gotten that out of the way let’s break down what you just read. Jesus totally ignores the question and instead tells this story of the priest and Levite passing by someone in need but a Samaritan stopping and helping him. What is Jesus getting at here? I think essentially Jesus says this, “You’re asking the wrong question. Do not worry about who your neighbor is, instead know what loving your neighbor looks like.” Jesus skips over objection number one and answers objection number two. Here is what loving your enemy looks like. It looks like going out of your way and sacrificing yourself for another. This Samaritan puts the man who was robbed on his own animal, takes him to where he needs to go, and pays for all that he needs. He goes above and beyond what is necessary. This Samaritan places the man above him in every area.

When looking at this picture of what loving your neighbor looks like, I cannot begin to attempt to justify the hating, hurting, or killing of someone who is to be considered my neighbor. To the person who fits in with objection number two I ask you to consider the type of behavior that Jesus says qualifies as loving your neighbor as yourself. In my mind it seems pretty straightforward that we can’t make up our own definition of loving a neighbor that includes harming them or not sacrificing ourselves for their betterment.

Now objection number one people might be thinking, “Sure we should love our neighbor in that self-sacrificial way, but again who is my neighbor? Jesus never answered that.” Now I agree that Jesus didn’t explicitly answer that question, but I am going to give two reasons why I believe that this parable actually does give us an answer to this question, and then just in case you don’t think it’s satisfactory I’m going to give you one more short passage to look at just because I really like you and appreciate you interest in the matter.

First, I think that Jesus passes over the question and shows what loving your neighbor looks like because we are to consider all people our neighbor. The guy wants to justify himself and see if he can exclude certain people from being his neighbor, and Jesus seems to say that’s the wrong question. Go and do like the Samaritan did. No matter who it is, you need to show the sort of love displayed by the Samaritan. Concern yourself with always acting in this manner and don’t concern yourself with who to show this love to and who not to.

The second reason this parable does indeed answer the question of who our neighbor is takes a little more background knowledge and it has to do with who Jesus casts in His story. The people He chose to play certain roles would have immediately stood out to the people hearing it in that day. Jesus has two “respectable” and “religious” people pass over the person in need. The priest, who is supposed to be the one to stand in between God and man, and the Levite, the people from whom a priest is chosen, both utterly failed to love their neighbor. The two people who would have been expected to do as they should before God did not, and the Samaritan did.

The Samaritans in Jesus’ time were not looked on well by the Jews. They are the half-breeds of the society, and therefore were not to be associated with. We see this in John 4:9 when the Samaritan woman is shocked that Jesus is even talking to her because of both her nationality and her gender (Jesus was quite the rule breaker when it came to identifying with the outcasts). So to paint this Samaritan half breed in such a good light would have been shocking! “The Samaritan did what was right in God’s eyes? You want me to go and do as the Samaritan did?” That would have been crazy talk! Here Jesus absolutely destroys our categories of who is the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, the deserving and the undeserving. In this parable Jesus has the enemy loving their neighbor in order to show us that the neighbor we should love is our enemy.

One modern day example would be if you asked me who is the neighbor you should love and I told you a story where the pastor and the church elder passed by someone who was in need but an ISIS member stopped and took the person in need somewhere to get help. It just doesn’t fit our neat categories that we set up in our head! Jesus attempts to get us/them to take a second and reevaluate how we see certain people because of race, religion, and the practices they engage in. “Go and do as the ISIS member did,” He says. It’s ridiculous!

Now of course this is not to advocate or justify any action that an enemy might do. This is just to show that our end of the deal as participants in God’s kingdom is to love our neighbor as ourself in the way the Samaritan did, and to show us that our neighbor includes even our enemies. God will indeed take care of any wrongdoer that needs to be taken care of and is beyond redemption. That is His business that we need to leave to Him. It’s a scary thing when we become judge, jury, and executioner. This brings me to the last passage that I want to point out. I’ve used this in past posts but it is really just so essential.

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord. But If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.” Romans 12:17–21

God declares that justice is His end of the deal. Our end is to be the Samaritan and show love to our enemies. Our end is to participate in and embody the kingdom of God that is marked by the gentle, the merciful, and the peacemakers (Matthew 5).

I honestly don’t even want to look at the word count of this post because I know it’s lengthy and I still have so much more that I want to say, yet that will have to wait. I do hope that I at least began to shed some light on how Jesus does silence these two objections (and that is only in one parable). I have plenty of other texts that would strengthen this assertion, (which I know you’re just dying to read through) but now isn’t the time for that. Rather it is time for us as Christ-followers to humbly consider that our innate desire to place people outside of the group we should love called “neighbors” might be a bit off. It is time for us to consider that we may need to indeed deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus in the path of dying at the hands of our enemies in love for them (Luke 9:23, Romans 5:8).

I hope this has given you something to think about. I hope that you will go and do as the ISIS member did.

Peace be with you.


 

Image by Zoriah via flickr
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Curtis Snell

I am first and foremost someone who is trying to follow the example and teachings of Jesus. I serve on the pastoral staff of a church in Iowa and I love writing, reading, and my dog Pepper.

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