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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Cost of Love and What It Buys

I was reading Jesus' familiar parable of the good Samaritan, which Jesus told to define who one's "neighbor" is with respect to the second greatest commandment, to love one's neighbor as oneself.  It strikes me how much it cost the Samaritan to love his half-dead Jewish neighbor.  Certainly time, as his help interrupted his own journey.  It cost him oil and wine, which he poured on the man's wounds.  It cost him energy as he had to walk to the inn since the wounded man was on his own animal, and maybe the Samaritan was carrying on his own back some of his belongings so as not to overload his beast of burden.  It cost him two denarii to pay for their stay at the inn, where he may have been up all night tending him, which cost him sleep.  Then the next day he makes an open-ended promise to pay for the rest of the Jew's stay, which could have cost him who-knows-how-much.  And at the conclusion of the parable, Jesus says to the man he was talking to, "Go and do likewise."

It got me thinking how much it costs to love someone the way God wants us to.  We are willing to pay high costs for our own health and happiness; to love our neighbors as ourselves and to do to others what we would have them do to us require us to pay those costs for everyone, even our enemies.

But Jesus told this parable as part of a conversation that started with the question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"  The first thing, Jesus affirms, is to love the Lord with everything we have and are—in other words, to pay high costs to love him—and then derivatively to pay the cost to love our neighbor.  But the enormous, self-negating costs of loving God and neighbor are what buy us the inheritance of eternal life and riches that never die.  So in other words, no matter how extreme the cost we pay, what we get for it is an immeasurable bargain.  We are like a man who sells all he had to buy a field with buried treasure or a merchant who sells all he has to buy a matchless pearl.  Like them, divesting ourselves of everything isn't an agony, but the greatest joy.

Of course I use the term "buy" as a figure of speech as Jesus did (see also Rev. 3:18), knowing that he paid the cost of our salvation with his own blood on the cross.  But the Bible is clear that just as our salvation cost Jesus everything, it costs us everything too.  And just as Jesus got everything back that he paid and more besides, so will we.  I hope that makes us more willing to pay it.

God, please grant me the willingness to pay the cost of loving you and loving my neighbors today.  And grant me joy as I pay it by giving me a glimpse of the eternal weight of glory for which I spend it.  In Jesus' name, amen.

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