Our world is built around the concept of investment. We measure risk and return to judge where we should place our money, time, energy, and love. What’s in it for me? What do I get out of it? What is it going to cost? What are the risks? How do I maximize my return? Where’s the best value? Is the return worth the effort or cost? Now, there is some wisdom in all of that. We should be good stewards of our money, time, and energy. There is truth in planting a seed to gather a harvest. But there is also the greater truth of giving without expecting any return.
One familiar story in the Gospels is the Parable of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10:30-37. We know well the point of the parable, that everyone is our neighbor. But we really need to back up a few verses. “And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25–29, NASB95) Teacher, what things must I invest in to gain eternal life? Like all good lawyers, he already knew the answer to the question he was asking. Invest in loving God and in loving your neighbor. The return is well worth the investment. But the lawyer had a problem, there were some neighbors that he did not want to invest in. The Parable of the Good Samaritan is Jesus direct response to his question, “And who is my neighbor?”
In the parable, we see an amazing thing. The Samaritan invests his time, money, and love with no expectation of return. He puts aside his own “busy-ness” to care for the injured man. He spends his own oil, bandages, and cash to secure the stranger’s well being. He even promises to cover any and all expenses the innkeeper may incur. At the very end of the parable is a final exchange between Jesus and the lawyer. “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:36–37, NASB95)
Mercy is often seen as coming from a position of strength; the bully twisting the arm of his victim until he begs for mercy. I’m doing you a favor. I’m going to be big about this. I’m going to show you mercy even if you don’t deserve it and prove how righteous I am. Isn’t that how the narrative plays out in our heads? Doesn’t that kind of thinking put mercy into the realm of investment and return? But that’s not God’s kind of mercy.
Jesus command to the lawyer is twofold – go and do. Go, don’t just sit there. Don’t build walls to contain mercy. Don’t stay in your own bubble but go, encounter life, and show mercy as you go. Do like the Samaritan; give your time, money, and love to those that have been robbed, beaten, and left for dead without weighing their worthiness or estimating the return on investment. Could someone take advantage? Sure. Could someone take without ever paying it back or paying it forward? Yep. Could someone receive without ever even saying thank you? Of course. Our job is not to judge the worthiness of the investment but to give what we have been given and leave the rest up to God. In other words, give mercy simply for mercy’s sake.