Love is Practical

…Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’
The expert in the Law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’
Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
Luke 10:30-37

One thing needs to be said here – we have a lack of words in the English language to describe love. We also have too much media and books and journals that speak about love in terms of relationships and romance. The three commandments of love that are in the four gospels are not at all about that kind of love. With Jesus, love is always something done in the physical world, not in the emotional world.

Of course, the first love commandment says to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. But I would say that this is practical and not internal.

We know the difference between a worker who works half-heartedly and the one who puts their all into it. This is what is meant by all your heart. The mind tends to wander, and this can be the breeding ground for temptations. So maybe being strong (there’s 2 words from the list) about applying Philippians 4:8 would be a good thing to deal with this:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”

Physical strength as well as mental strength – because if you work for the Lord, he is the most worthy boss of all and deserves proper effort.

But what does it mean to love the Lord with all your soul?

There are lots of interpretations about this one. Again it can be confusing because soul is a word which, in itself, is sometimes used in the scriptures to refer to the whole man. It can also sometimes refer to the carnal internal nature. Or it can refer to the decision making process. And there are even more uses for this term in the scriptures. But for the sake of this command, I like to think about the decision making process and to submit our choices to the Lord, so that we do His will in our lives.

The second command, to love your neighbour as yourself, is also a practical commandment. It is not wishy washy emotional love. It is doing something about a situation. Making sure that your neighbour is not hungry or thirsty or naked. It can be about checking their health, and general well-being.

Jesus was showing in this parable not only how open the commandment is concerning who to show this love to, but also showing how it is a practical thing. Something that finds things to be done to help another person.

So the Samaritan was not just being a spectator here, being moved in his heart and feeling compassion, but he went further and did something about it. He went to the man, examined him and determined what needed to be done.

Of course, there were no First Aid classes in those days as today, and his medical knowledge was maybe only basic, but it makes sense to do exactly as he did: to bandage the wounds. It does not say so in the parable itself, but I am sure he also covered the man’s nakedness.

When we read the Sermon on the Mount about how the Father cares for his children, we read that we are not to worry about food, drink and clothing, because the Father cares for his children and will make sure we are provided in this way.

And so if we are going to be sharing the love of Jesus with a person that we have just met, maybe we should take a breath and pause for a moment. Why rush into the gospel message if you notice that the person you are speaking with is in need? Maybe they need a meal? If you buy one, then the gospel may be better received as you share a meal with them. You will have demonstrated practically that Jesus cares.

We so often give only the theory, which can be so vague and harder to grasp than people think… Yes, the gospel message is a simple message, but if only words are presented, then sometimes people wonder what you are about. But something tangible, like a real demonstration of love, can make all the difference to the way that people will listen to you. And so there can be a real difference to the way that the gospel message is understood and received.

Of course, in the parable, the Samaritan was not concerned with spreading the news of the gospel. He had taken pity on the unfortunate man and wanted to give the necessary help. Without proper help, the man would most likely have died in the wilderness conditions of the Holy Land, and without proper care of the wounds, there could be infection that would quickly spread and become deadly.

This is what the oil and wine is for. Oil helps to clean the wound, and it forms a barrier. The wine is real wine, not the kind of non-alcoholic stuff you find some churches serving in communion. It had to be real wine to serve the needed purpose here: to disinfect the wound. Alcohol is quite good for this purpose.
Other commentators write in much detail about the oil and the wine, and tweak out a lot if different significances from this. But for the sake of this study I am staying with the practical. Because love, in the way that Jesus commands, is about doing the practical things.

To me, it is noticeable how, in more recent times, people are less willing to go out and do the little practical things that make all the difference. Maybe it is a side-effect of being part of the television generation. We can become so used to seeing misfortune on the television, and so now it has become ‘entertainment’ and all we do there is to sit impassively, and maybe have some slight feelings of pity in our hearts. Feelings help no-one! That is one of the messages that I feel is clear from this parable, and from parts of the Sermon on the Mount, and many other parts of the gospels.

This is one of the reasons I like this parable so much. It does so much more than to give the answer to the question asked by the expert in the law. It demonstrates how to do things in the real world. Not to be an observer only, feeling compassion, but to do something practical.

Maybe, for some, that practical thing will be to make some form of donation. But even that, sometimes, can be a way of escaping from ‘getting your hands dirty’ and doing something real for someone yourself. It is this personal interaction and giving of love that is part of the whole point here.

In the modern world, we find people are so self-absorbed, thinking of their own jobs, relationships and needs. So much so that, in the western world anyway, many grown kids even forget to maintain contact with their parents. It is sad to see how many elderly have not been contacted by their children, sometimes for many years. Loneliness is becoming a plague that torments our society.

Even the relaxed way that relationships and sexuality has developed has been a contributory cause of this. It is too easy to form relationships without commitment, and then to walk away and look for the next when things do not go exactly the way you want. But closeness and real love develop by overcoming problems together.

Compromises are necessary for success, but pride and arrogance fools us into believing that to compromise is to show weakness. This, of course, is a lie. When two bend to support and help each other, then they also grow stronger and more able to face the troubles of the world together.

People begin to think only about themselves, looking after ‘number one’. It is not wrong to look after yourself, to make sure you are clean, have water and food, have clothes and a place to live. But this should not blind us from seeing the need in others and having not only the hearts and desire to help – but going out there and giving the practical help in real deeds.

All this is wonderfully demonstrated by the Good Samaritan.

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