Many of us celebrated Valentine’s Day last week as a day of romance: red hearts, little angelic Cupids shooting heart-tipped arrows, flowers, candy and the special cards we call “valentines.”
Romantic love is a wonderful thing. People have written countless songs, books and scripts about it. Affectionate love, the love that can exist between family members or close friends, is similar. With romantic or affectionate love, we enjoy being with the person, doing things with them and sharing with them.
When we talk about love this way, we often use “love” as a noun. But love is more than just a feeling, it is also a verb, an action. That is the way that the Gospel of Jesus Christ often uses the word “love.”
When a lawyer asked Jesus what he (the lawyer) needed to do to inherit eternal life, for example, Jesus turned the question and asked the lawyer what he thought. He answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself” (Luke 10:27 KJV). That’s correct, Jesus said. Eternal life comes by loving — a verb.
When the lawyer persisted and asked, “Who is my neighbor?” (v29) Jesus replied with the parable of the “Good Samaritan.”
In that story a man, while traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, was attacked by thieves. They stripped and beat him and left him half-dead.
When Jewish religious leaders came upon the man, they passed him by without offering him help. But then a Samaritan, whom the Jews despised, came by and had compassion for the beaten man. He cleaned and bound the man’s wounds and took him to an inn where he paid the innkeeper to care for the man.
The story now finished, Jesus asked the lawyer whom he thought had loved his neighbor. Of course it was the Samaritan. Jesus admonished the lawyer to go and do likewise — and He asks us to do the same as well.
The kind of love the Samaritan showed the wounded man was not romantic or even affectionate love; the Samaritan didn’t even know the man. But what the Samaritan did was an act of love. He had compassion for the man and acted accordingly.
When Jesus asks us to “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44 KJV), He is not asking us to have affectionate love — a noun — for these people: He is asking us to act with love — a verb — and compassion toward them.
Another way to think about loving in this way is to do what is best for the person. In this sense, it is possible for us to love someone we don’t like very much. This love is quite different from romantic love or affectionate love.
As we emulate the Good Samaritan, we become aware of those around us and the wounds they bear. Those sores may not be physical, but perhaps emotional or even spiritual. As we do our best to bind up those wounds and care for the injured, we are loving others as Christ would have us do.
While we hope there is always romantic love in the world and the love of strong affection, we also want to remember the love of doing good to others regardless of how we feel about them. Then, at least in the circle of people around us, we will make the world a better place.