Only a costly love will heal our racial divide.

Jesus was in a conversation with a Jewish religious scholar who was attempting to catch him in a trap:

Then an expert in the law stood up to test him, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the law?” [Jesus] asked him. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and “your neighbor as yourself.”

“You’ve answered correctly,” he told him. “Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28)

Jesus told the religious scholar, “Do this and you will live.” But the Jewish religious leader, “wanting to justify himself,” asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).

In his Jewish cultural context, his neighbor would have been only Jewish because of the historical ethnic conflict that existed between Jews and Gentiles. However, Jesus wanted to show humanity how to truly be human.

Jesus took up the question and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him up, and fled, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” (Luke 10:30-32)

Jerusalem to Jericho was a seventeen-mile trip, with a three-thousand-foot descent of winding road. This road had many places where robbers could hide, waiting to ambush unsuspecting travelers.

Jesus tells us that a man was robbed, beaten, and left for dead. We know the man was Jewish because Jesus does not identify him as a Gentile to his Jewish listeners. Then Jesus says a Jewish priest and a Levite—both coming from Jerusalem—saw their bloody kinsman. They walked by him on the other side of the road, neglecting his need, moving past his pain. There was no fear of them becoming unclean from touching a dead person because they had just completed their religious duties in Jerusalem—they were heading “down,” to Jericho. The Temple was a place of worship, yet the two religious leaders walked past the man in need.

Never forget—the greatest act of worship is loving your neighbor because you love God; the two go together. Listeners would have expected that the priest and Levite would be examples of loving their neighbor, but Jesus flipped the script:

But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion. He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.” (Luke 10:33-25)

Given the ethnic hatred between Jews and Samaritans, the thought that a Samaritan would stop and help a Jew was unthinkable. Jesus said the Samaritan saw a “man”—not a Jew, but a man. You and I will not be able to love people beyond the label we attach to them. This fact is why Scripture says, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Every human bears the image of God and is worthy of love, respect, and dignity. When the Samaritan saw the Jewish man, he had compassion for him. Love shares in suffering.

The Samaritan put bandages on the man’s wounds. He poured oil to keep the wounds soft and wine to keep them from being infected. He then placed the man on his animal and put him up in an inn so the man could recover. Helping the man who was supposed to be his ethnic enemy was expensive. Everything he used to help him had a financial cost. The amount of money he paid the inn for the man to recover from his injuries would have covered about a two-month stay.

There was another cost too. Imagine when the Samaritan returned home and told his family and friends what he had done for a Jew! I suspect he would have been called a “Jew lover” or been told “#JewishLivesDoNotMatter” and asked, “Why would you help him?” Loving your neighbor looks like refusing to give in to historical racial bigotry. It looks like saying, “I am not going to carry this sin into my future. I am going to break the cycle of hate by being merciful to the ‘other.’”

Jesus then said, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

“The one who showed mercy to him,” he said.

Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:36-37)

Our racial divide will be healed by the merciful. Go, and do the same!

Dr. Derwin L. Gray is the cofounder and lead pastor of Transformation Church (TC), located in the Charlotte, North Carolina metro region. He is a popular conference speaker and the author of Hero: Unleashing God’s Power in a Man’s Heart ; Building a Multiethnic Church ; The Good Life ; God, Do You Hear Me?; and Limitless Life . Derwin met his wife, Vicki, at Brigham Young University, and they have been married since 1992. They have two adult children, Presley and Jeremiah. His new book, How to Heal Our Racial Divide, is out today from Tyndale.