What is the difference between fulfilling a legal obligation and love? The story of the Good Samaritan demonstrates the difference, as does the contrast in reactions by the Penn State coaching staff and a concerned mother in the recent horrible sex scandal. Tim Henderson, campus director for Campus Crusade for Christ at Penn State opens this up more in a recent Gospel Coalition article, Love Notices Wet Hair:
Love Notices Wet Hair
Jesus said the most fundamental responsibility we have is to love God and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. In light of this he was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” which is another way to ask, “Whom am I obligated to love?”
At Penn State, we have been asking questions about obligation all week. Who is legally obligated to report sexual abuse of a child, and to whom must they report it? Who is morally obligated to report sexual abuse of a child, and to whom must they report it? Is there a difference between moral obligation and legal obligation?
Jesus responded to the heart of that question in his famous story about the Good Samaritan. Surprisingly though, he didn’t actually answer that question. He answered a more important one.
First, though, consider two of the victims described in the grand jury’s findings in the case against former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky. According to the report a graduate assistant saw a 10-year-old boy (victim two) pressed against a shower wall being raped. The assistant then left, eventually called his boss, and reported what he had seen, just as he was legally obligated to do.
In contrast, when victim six returned home from a visit with Sandusky, his mom noticed he had wet hair. On the basis of that small detail alone she was concerned and learned that they had showered together. Immediately this mom called the police, cooperated in a wiretap, confronted Sandusky to his face, interrogated him about the details of showering with her son, grilled him about the effect he had on her son, and rebuked him, telling him never to shower with another boy again.
What’s the difference between these cases?
The difference is the mom loved her son. She loved her little boy and was moved to outrage by the simple fact of his wet hair. She moved aggressively. She wasn’t fulfilling a legal obligation, and she wasn’t fulfilling a moral obligation. Obligation wasn’t the issue.
Love is the issue. The shame engulfing Penn State is about a deficiency of love. The chief responsibility of our life is loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving our neighbors as much as and in the same manner that we love ourselves. “Who is my neighbor?” is the wrong question. According to Jesus, the right question is, “Am I a neighbor?” It’s not, “Who must I love?” It’s, “Am I one who loves?”
Again, the chief responsibility of our lives is to love God and others as we love ourselves. But we don’t. If we’re honest, it’s not even close. We don’t love anyone with the vigor and thoroughness that we love ourselves. Jesus Christ is the only one to walk the earth who fulfilled that command. He is the ultimate Good Samaritan, and he is the one who loves radically. He said, “Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” And then he did just that. He loved radically; gave himself away—not just figuratively but literally. He laid down his life as a sacrifice on the cross to protect us from the punishment our sins deserve. He loves you as much as he loves himself.
To the extent that fact penetrates your heart, it will transform you and make you love better. It will give you not just the affection of love, but the courage of love. A love that moves to protect. That moves into danger. A love that doesn’t measure obligation but suffers so the beloved won’t. The kind of love that would notice wet hair and respond immediately.
In order to love like that we need to first mourn over this evil. There has been an urgency for us at Penn State to get past or even deflect this shame. Don’t do that. Let the shame into your heart. Grieve. Mourn. If we will accept the glory of Penn State, we must also accept the shame, and this is a shameful moment.
Let shame produce softness and repentance in your heart. Perhaps God will give you the grace to see your own failure to love in others’ failure to love. As you mourn and confess that failure to him, you can experience his love, become one who notices the wet hair all around you, and move to love others.