Have you ever noticed how often we hear the phrase, “I just love...”? “I just love to watch the sun set over the lake.... I just love the smell of the grease and the hum of the engines.... I just love the feeling of being in ‘the zone’.... I just love that dress on you.” While all of these are genuine and respectable pleasures, is any of this really love? Isn’t love the most transforming experience we can even know? Who has ever been transformed by the smell of grease, or the cut and color of a dress?
We often use the word love in relation to people and experiences that give us pleasure, but real love has a price. The story that Jesus tells in today’s Gospel points this out to us. The priest and the Levite were on their way to Jerusalem, presumably to fulfill responsibilities in the temple, privileges that may have been theirs only a few times a year. They did not know whether the man on the road was dead or alive. If dead, they would be responsible for the body, and this would make them ritually unclean and unfit for temple duty. Concern for another human might have required them to forfeit something they held dear. It was a price they chose not to pay.
The Samaritan traveler had no ritual privilege to lose. He was already unfit for temple worship and therefore despised by those who considered themselves good citizens. But he was filled with concern for another human being. He gave him immediate attention and then paid another to continue the care for him. He was willing to pay the price.
In this Gospel reading, love of God and love of neighbor seem to be two sides of the same coin. Love of God expresses itself in love of others. Both the Gospel and the first reading suggest that love of God and of others is the law of God. The Hebrew word torah (law) might be better translated “instruction.” We are instructed to love. But Moses tells his listeners that such instruction or law is not foreign to us. “It is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”
Love should be natural to us—not just love of the world in which we live, with its spectacular sights and scents, its energizing sounds and designs, but genuine love of others. But selfish love often gets in the way, and we have to be reminded of what is most important in life. And then we have to be courageous enough to open our hearts to it.