You know the parable, how a man from Jerusalem was on his way to Jericho and fell among thieves and was left half dead. . . Every time I read this parable I am impressed with its power and its simplicity. But have you ever wondered why the Savior chose to make the hero of this story a Samaritan? There was considerable antipathy between the Jews and the Samaritans at the time of Christ. Under normal circumstances, these two groups avoided association with each other. It would still be a good, instructive parable if the man who fell among thieves had been rescued by a brother Jew. His deliberate use of Jews and Samaritans clearly teaches that we are all neighbors and that we should love, esteem, respect, and serve one another despite our deepest differences—including religious, political, and cultural differences. That instruction continues today to be part of the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In enumerating the key doctrines of the restored Church, Joseph Smith said, while “we claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience,” we also “allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may”. Thankfully, many of our members understand this doctrine and live it during the course of their daily lives. I recently read a news account of a tragic death in a community here in Utah. A grieving young widow was quoted: “We’ve been overwhelmed by support. We’re not Mormon, but the local ward here has been all over us with meals and help and words of comfort. It’s been a total outpouring of love, and we appreciate it”. That’s just as it should be. If we are truly disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will reach out with love and understanding to all of our neighbors at all times, particularly in times of need.
“Charity is the pure love of Christ.” The Savior exemplified that love and taught it even as He was tormented by those who despised and hated Him. On one occasion the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus by asking Him a seemingly impossible question: “Master,” they asked, “which is the great commandment in the law?” The Pharisees had debated this question extensively and had identified more than 600 commandments. If prioritizing them was such a difficult task for scholars, certainly they thought the question would be impossible for this son of a carpenter from Galilee. But when the Pharisees heard His answer, they must have been troubled, for it pointed to their great weakness. He replied: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. “This is the first and great commandment. “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Since that day, this inspired pronouncement has been repeated through many generations. Now, for us, the measure of our love is the measure of the greatness of our souls. The scriptures tell us that “if any man love God, the same is known of him.” What a wonderful promise—to be known of Him. It makes the spirit soar to think that the Creator of heaven and earth could know us and love us with a pure, eternal love. In 1840 the Prophet Joseph sent an epistle to the Twelve wherein he taught that “love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.” As we reach out in love to those around us, we fulfill the other half of the great commandment to “love thy neighbour as thyself.” Both commandments are necessary, for as we bear one another’s burdens, we fulfill the law of Christ.
President Marion G. Romney spoke concerning the funding of caring for the needy when he said: “It has been, and now is, the desire and the objective of the Church to obtain from fast offerings the necessary funds to meet the cash needs of the welfare program. … At the present time we are not meeting this objective. We can, we ought, and we must do better. If we will double our fast offerings, we shall increase our own prosperity, both spiritually and temporally. This the Lord has promised, and this has been the record.” Are we generous in the payment of our fast offerings? That we should be so was taught by President Joseph F. Smith. He declared that it is incumbent upon every Latter-day Saint to give to his bishop on fast day an amount equivalent to the food that he and his family would consume for the day and, if possible, a liberal donation to be so reserved and donated to the poor. President Spencer W. Kimball suggested that, in our generosity, we go beyond a minimum amount. He urged that we “give, instead of the amount we saved by our two meals of fasting, perhaps much, much more—ten times more where we are in a position to do it.” The generous response of the Latter-day Saints in times of crisis is legendary. Many will remember the emergency aid provided our needy Saints in Europe following World War II. President Ezra Taft Benson directed this effort. . . Once again, the welfare plan of the Lord had blessed the lives of His children. May our Heavenly Father guide the priesthood of this church, that we may be obedient to the revelation of the Lord to the Prophet Joseph in which we are charged to “remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple.” We will qualify as His disciples when we hear and heed the counsel from Isaiah describing the true fast, the spirit and the promise of the welfare effort: “Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward. “Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. … “And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, … and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.”
People who love people have an easier time being spiritual. In that Upper Room, the Lord issued a new commandment: “That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another”. Love is a difficult word to understand in the English language. For example, I could say to someone that “I love you.” I used exactly those same words this morning speaking to my wife, Barbara, and I meant something very different. We need to know who is speaking to whom in what context. The Greeks don’t have the same problem because they have three different words for love. The first is eros, or romantic love. The English word erotic comes from that Greek root. The second is philia, or brotherly love. The U.S. “City of Brotherly Love,” Philadelphia, gets its name from that Greek root. The third is agape, or Godlike love, the kind of love that enables our Father in Heaven and the Lord to love us even though we are not perfect. I understand that each time in the Greek text of the New Testament when the Lord commands us to love our enemies, it is agape that is used. Here is a very important point for all of us to remember. If we want to cultivate spirituality, we should love everyone at the levels of agape or philia, but when it comes to eros, or romantic love, we are not commanded to love everyone. In fact, the full expression of romantic physical affection is intended by the Lord for two people inside the bonds of marriage. If we follow that counsel, our spirituality will increase. If we don’t, we will lose the Spirit almost immediately. It is interesting to note that at the age that the natural attraction toward members of the opposite sex is as high as it likely will ever be, what does the Lord do? He calls young men on missions and expects them to go two years with no more physical contact with a member of the opposite sex than shaking hands briefly. The miracle is that almost all of the missionaries rise to that challenge brilliantly. For the few who do not, it is a personal disaster. When an elder who has followed this guideline returns home and finds someone he can convince to become his eternal companion, he brings to her, his future wife, the great gift of a husband and future father of her children who has learned self-control. He is one who is not driven by every feeling that comes into his system. He is in control. The Church’s marriages are stronger because of so many who have learned this self-control.
True love requires action. We can speak of love all day long—we can write notes or poems that proclaim it, sing songs that praise it, and preach sermons that encourage it—but until we manifest that love in action, our words are nothing but “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” Christ did not just speak about love; He showed it each day of His life. He did not remove Himself from the crowd. Being amidst the people, Jesus reached out to the one. He rescued the lost. He didn’t just teach a class about reaching out in love and then delegate the actual work to others. He not only taught but also showed us how to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.” Christ knows how to minister to others perfectly. When the Savior stretches out His hands, those He touches are uplifted and become greater, stronger, and better people as a result. If we are His hands, should we not do the same? . . The Savior revealed the perfect priorities for our lives, our homes, our wards, our communities, and our nations when He spoke of love as the great commandment upon which “hang all the law and the prophets.” We can spend our days obsessing about the finest details of life, the law, and long lists of things to do; but should we neglect the great commandments, we are missing the point and we are clouds without water, drifting in the winds, and trees without fruit. Without this love for God the Father and our fellowmen we are only the form of His Church—without the substance. What good is our teaching without love? What good is missionary, temple, or welfare work without love? Love is what inspired our Heavenly Father to create our spirits; it is what led our Savior to the Garden of Gethsemane to make Himself a ransom for our sins. Love is the grand motive of the plan of salvation; it is the source of happiness, the ever-renewing spring of healing, the precious fountain of hope. As we extend our hands and hearts toward others in Christlike love, something wonderful happens to us. Our own spirits become healed, more refined, and stronger. We become happier, more peaceful, and more receptive to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit. With all my heart and soul I give thanks to our Heavenly Father for His love for us, for the gift of His Son, for the life and example of Jesus the Christ, and for His sinless and selfless sacrifice. I rejoice in the fact that Christ is not dead but risen from the grave! He lives and has returned to the earth to restore His authority and gospel to man. He has given us the perfect example of the kind of men and women we should be.