However, we face a new pandemic that no mask can ward off: the wave of toxic negativity sweeping our country. Fueled and exploited by politicians and those who view discord as somehow beneficial, an attitude of “us vs. them ”looms over us ominously.
In this gathering storm, civil discourse wanes and outrageous statements become more strident. People view “them” with increasing suspicion and “us” as the only ones who are correct. Compassion and kindness can be swept away in the ensuing hostile tempest.
Jesus once answered an expert in the Law of Moses, a man concerned with being correct, with a beloved story that shows how God can neutralize the effects of toxic negativity in us (Luke 10: 25-37).
The lawyer asks a profound question, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v25) He then accurately summarizes the essence of God’s law: love God and your neighbor as yourself.
“You’ve answered correctly,” he (Jesus) told him. ‘Do this and you will live.’ ”(V28)
Keep loving God and your neighbor flawlessly for the rest of your days, and you’ll earn eternal life by your own efforts.
That made the lawyer squirm – and it should us, too. Who can love God and his fellow man perfectly? No one: in fact, the statement is meant to reveal our attitudes that prevent us from doing so.
Against this background, Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan. A man traveled from Jerusalem to Jericho, a lonely and dangerous downhill grade. He was robbed, beaten, and left for dead.
Two men who knew God’s word passed by the severely injured man and did nothing. Simply knowing what God required did not change their behavior: their heart and life need transformation first.
Then a Samaritan passes: he would have certainly been viewed with suspicion and derision as one of “them.” But this man responded completely differently: “when he saw the man, he had compassion” (v33). The Samaritan took care of the injured man: he bandaged his wounds, found him safe shelter, and paid the bill. His heart of compassion directed his behavior and that toward a person who may otherwise have viewed him with contempt.
Faith in Jesus Christ not only makes us right with God, it changes our heart and behavior. That’s how we can sincerely love God and others.
I recently encountered a dear friend, an 83-year-old RN who still uses her expertise to serve others in Jesus’ name. She is living out the example of the good Samaritan.
Love of God through faith in Jesus enables us to truly care for others, despite their race, political persuasion, or lifestyle. We let God to what only he can do: change people’s hearts. We’re to care for one another and help those in need. That will help dissipate some of the toxic negativity that swirls around us.
Don Baumann is a retired outreach pastor at Hilltop Community Church.