The Subversive and Transgressive Call to Love Our Neighbor

Herb Montgomery | July 8, 2022

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.


“What Christian stereotypes about others are we being called to subvert in our societal context? What are those stereotypes rooted in? Are they rooted in bias and bigotry toward a different gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, education, economic status, or some other category? What stereotypes about those different from you have you, from your own experience, found to be staggeringly untrue?”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)

Some rhetoric and other elements of the Jesus stories have not aged well, but this week’s reading is one reason I still hold onto the Jesus story. This week’s section displays the heart of the moral philosophy of the Jesus of the gospels, a moral philosophy that I believe still has intrinsic value as we seek to be compassionate, just, safe humans today.

A version of the passage is found in each synoptic gospel as well as the Gospel of Thomas:

“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.” (Mark 12:28-34)

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

“Jesus says: ‘Love your brother [sic] like your life! Protect him [sic] like the apple of your eye!’” (Gospel of Thomas 25)

Most historical Jesus scholars agree, given Rabbi Hillel’s influence in 1st Century Judaism, that the Hillellian practice of interpreting Torah through love (of God and neighbor) was the Jewish interpretive school Jesus was following here.

Jesus named the second greatest commandment as Leviticus 19’s command to love one’s neighbor as yourself. The context of this command in Leviticus shows that its “love” was much more than sentimentality. This love was also economic and political. Loving one’s neighbor in meant prohibiting the oppression and exploitation of people Israel’s society had made vulnerable (see Leviticus 19:9-17).

Because of this, those of us who seek to follow the moral philosophy of Jesus today have a strong precedent for interpreting our sacred texts through the interpretive lens of love and applying that ethic of love politically, socially, and economically.

Recently, I was in Lexington, Kentucky, during a denominational pastors convention. I was not there as a conference attendee, but worked alongside Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International to call for LGBTQ inclusion and provide pastors with LGBTQ-affirming resources that their denomination refuses to provide. While I was there, I attended a presentation by Alicia Johnston, a pastor within that tradition who was fired when she publicly came out as bisexual. Her presentation introduced her new book The Bible and LGBTQ Adventists.

Alicia shared an example in her talk that resonated deeply with me. Today, she said, LGBTQ-affirming theologians often use love as the lens through which to interpret and understand their sacred text, while non-affirming theologians use the sacred text (interpreted through their own social location) to define what “love” and “loving” mean.

For those who may be tempted to imagine that these two interpretive options are both viable, their fruits are not the same. One is life-giving and life-affirming while the other has a long history of producing harmful definitions of love that have proven lethal. The lethal results of prioritizing the text over an ethic of love should give us all pause.

This story also has some unique elements.

Luke’s gospel is the only gospel that adds to the love-based interpretation of Torah the story of the good Samaritan, a story that shows how this lens was to be lived.

Luke’s Jesus applies the ethic of love by applying it even outside of his own community. This story uses the then long-held tensions between people in Judea and people in Samaria, once the capital city of the Northern Israelite tribes. This story turns the commandment to love one’s neighbor on its head with a Samaritan neighbor modeling the ethic of compassion for others.

Jesus’ story is both subversive and transgressive. Jesus subverts his society’s stereotypes about Samaritans and transgresses the strongly held boundary between “us” and “them.” The Samaritan shows compassion through his actions toward someone who had been beaten, robbed and left for dead. In the story, this happens after the political and religious representatives from that person’s own region had passed him by. The Samaritan in the story transgresses social and political boundaries to practice this ethic of love, demonstrating a larger application of “neighbor” that include Judeans as well as Samaritans. And so the Samaritan becomes an example of enlarging neighborly love to include “them” as well as “us,” and Jesus calls those in Judean society to practice the same love as the Samaritan does.

I love this story because the Samaritan practices a universal love ethic. In this story, this is deeply transgressive of framing the Samaritan as morally inferior.

There is so much that we can glean from this story today.

What Christian stereotypes about others are we being called to subvert in our societal context?

What are those stereotypes rooted in? Are they rooted in bias and bigotry toward a different gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, education, economic status, or some other category?

What stereotypes about those different from you have you, from your own experience, found to be staggeringly untrue?

How does the ethic of love of neighbor call us to transgress our community’s boundary of “us” and “them?”

Whether we think of political, religious, or social communities, what does it look like for us to lean into boundary-transgressing practices of defining our “neighbor?”

What does genuine authentic love look like once our definition of “neighbor” has been enlarged?

Lastly, what else are you reading in this week’s story? Who else does this story invoke for you?

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. What boundary transgressing definition of “neighbor” is this week’s story bringing to mind for you? Discus with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,
I’ll see you next week



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