In Luke 10, Jesus is asked by an expert in the law what he has to do to inherit eternal life and He replies by citing what is in the law and asks the expert how he reads it. The expert answers by repeating The Great Commandments:
“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 neighbour as yourself.” All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40)
The expert, seeking to justify himself, asks him who his neighbour is and Jesus replies by relating the parable of the Good Samaritan which tells the story of a traveler who was attacked and robbed and left half-dead by the wayside. It goes on to tell how a Priest and a Levite ignored his plight and ‘passed by on the other side.’ But not so a Samaritan who when he saw him took pity on him and bandaged up his wounds and brought him to an inn and took care of him. When asked by Jesus who he thought was the man’s neighbour the expert rightly replies that it was the Samaritan. Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
The problem with this parable is relating it to our own lives as Christians. We would have no problem with singling out a ‘neighbour in need’ but when it comes to loving him our difficulties begin. If we are Priests or ‘Levites’ or any denomination of the church do we say that this is none of our business and ‘walk by on the other side’ or do we, as the Samaritan did, recognise our ‘neighbour’ and afford him the help he requires? The Priest and the Levite in Jesus’ parable obviously didn’t consider him as being worthy of their compassion. He was not their neighbour. Would he be yours or mine?
But how are we to interpret the parable? How are we supposed to do likewise as Jesus commands? Does the parable have a deeper interpretation way over the purely simple individual one related here? The compassion shown by the Samaritan is individualistic in much the same way as it is becoming today in western society but doesn’t it have a political interpretation? Isn’t it important for those of us who would be faithful to Jesus and the Great Commandments to think and speak of compassion not only within the church but also as a paradigm for public policy? Doesn’t the politics of compassion clearly imply universal health care of our fellow human beings as an immediate goal? A politics of compassion would generate a more sympathetic and empathetic dimension in our political life to counteract the excesses generated by the dominant politics of rampant individualism we are now experiencing over the whole of the western world.
How else can we express our love for our neighbours? Does all our law, today, hang on these two commandments? Is not this a vastly more important question than whether one should amend the Constitution to prohibit gay marriage? It is difficult to see this latter proposal as an expression of love of our neighbours as we love God and ourselves.