“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” ~ John 3:16 (NIV)
This verse is familiar to almost everyone–from people who have learned it as children and can recite it by memory, to people who may not know what it means but have seen it printed on posters used for protests and end zones alike. It’s a reminder of God’s amazing gift to us in Jesus—the proof of his love for all of us in the flesh-and-blood person of his Son. John 3:16 is a verse of hope.
But claiming that hope for ourselves and offering it freely to others can often present us with challenging circumstances. Jesus understood that and offered us an example of how we should deal with those times when sharing God’s love in the real world may cause us difficulty.
In Luke 10, Jesus tells his followers a story about a Jewish man who was beaten, robbed, and left to die beside the road. In this story, the man in need was not helped by his countrymen. The two who saw him—both religious leaders—left him there without pause. The man who stopped to help was a Samaritan—a member of society who was perceived by the Jews of Jesus’ time to be inferior and disreputable. But this Samaritan not only stopped to help the beaten man, he transported him to a nearby inn, tended his wounds, and paid for his ongoing care. He went out of his way, sacrificing his own time and money, to help a stranger in need. Jesus finishes the story with this simple instruction: “Go and do likewise.”
What does that mean for us today? In a time when rhetoric and outrage over immigration and political asylum dominate the headlines, how are Christians supposed to respond? What is our responsibility—really—for issues concerning the well-being of those (within and outside our borders) deemed undesirable or untrustworthy?
While the legal intricacies of immigration and asylum are complex and cumbersome—and often necessary—Jesus’ command is simple. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That command is where Jesus’ story started. When we read the entire passage of “The Good Samaritan,” we see that the question asked of Jesus was this: Who is my neighbor? Jesus responded with a story about a man helping a person whom his people considered an enemy.
Jesus’ message is clear. For people who claim the name and cause of Christ, the response to strangers in need is to show compassion and address their need. We should not get so distracted by political posturing that we forget who we are in Christ and what we’ve been given by his grace. And we dare not neglect offering that grace to others.
In Matthew 25, Jesus shares another story that relays the importance he places on the response his followers have toward those in need. When the people in the story question the king, “When did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” The king responds, “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
As citizens of America, we have the right to vote for, support, and champion any cause we choose, regardless of what anyone else may think. As members together of the body of Christ—the church—we have a responsibility to represent His cause above all, and we cannot genuinely proclaim to others the hope that God so loves the world unless we are willing to truly do so ourselves.