We know that Jesus wants us to help the poor. We know we're supposed to serve, that we're supposed to give, to help...and we know we're particularly commissioned to serve the poor among us. But surely, there's a place where we will know when we've served enough. There's a limit to the amount of time, money, and other resources we're supposed to give, right? And of course, we should be careful who we help. There are drug addicts who might take advantage of our help. There are people who are just trying to get over on the rest of us by taking and taking and taking. We don't want to be suckers, do we?
It's natural that we should want to know how to meet the expectations Jesus laid out for us in service. We want to get it just right. We'd like a list of Jesus' polices for caring for the poor...maybe a user's manual for the Christian call to service.
Many times, we are like the lawyer in Luke who wanted to pin Jesus down on the boundaries of how big our love should be to earn eternal life. After Jesus told him to love his neighbor as himself, he asked, "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:36)
Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is his teaching on what love looks like in action. The priest who passed by the wounded man should rightly have helped him up; however, he stuck too closely to the letter of the law, valuing his ritual cleanliness more than a suffering human being. The Samaritan, however, who was a stranger in the land and would not have likely counted the wounded as his neighbor in vicinity, gave the wounded man assistance and ensured he was cared for properly. In spite of their differences, in spite of the barriers of race and culture and class and everything that keeps us from giving what we should, the Samaritan serves where he's needed.
Jesus explains to the lawyer, who had sought to understand the exact nature of what he must do to attain eternal life, to "Go and do likewise."
This parable sets the bar high for us. Our love is meant to surpass all our prejudices, and we are instructed to regard everyone as our neighbor, to serve as vessels to pour out God's mercy on His creation. There is nothing we could do to earn the grace we receive. There is no finish line.
We can seek the limits all we want. There are no checklists for what we must do to earn eternal life. Our love should be boundless as God's love for us.