Meditation of the week

The most important commandment

Luke 10, 25-37.

In Matthew and Mark the question put to Jesus is; which is the most important commandment? In Luke the lawyer asks the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” His question is to test Jesus. To speak of inheriting eternal life equates it with a reward or right to be won by careful observance of the law. Jesus responds to the lawyer’s question with a question concerning what is written in the law, to which the lawyer responds by quoting Deut 6,4 “You shall love the Lord; etc. and Lev 19,18 and “your neighbour as yourself.” In Mt and Mk it is Jesus himself who sums up a person’s duty in these two great commands, and he treats them as two separate commandments, whereas in Luke it is the questioning lawyer who answers but combines them into one commandment, thereby implying that the rabbis hold a similar position to Jesus on what the primary commandment(s) is. Jesus accepts the lawyers answer and encourages him to practise this and he will live (eternally).

The lawyer, to justify himself, asks the further question; “who is his neighbour?” In other words, who should he love like himself? The story of the Good Samaritan answers the question? The man who went down from Jerusalem on his own was somewhat foolish. People usually travelled in convoys for safety. The priest thinking the man was dead gave him a wide berth to avoid incurring uncleanness and disqualification from partaking in worship for a week. (Num 19,11). Liturgical claims got priority over those of charity. The Levite had a look at the half-dead man but chose the path of safety and non-involvement, passing by on the other side as well. Levites were inferior to the priests and were responsible for organising and policing the liturgy in the Temple.

The surprise third person of the story, a Samaritan, having compassion on the poor man, first renders him first-aid, then mounts him on his beast and takes him to the local inn. Next day he pays in advance for the further care for the man at the inn until his return.

To Jesus’ question about which of the three men behaved as neighbour to the man, the lawyer answers correctly; “the man who showed him compassion,” thereby avoiding the use of the term Samaritan. Jesus adds the injunction to the lawyer to do the same himself.

The story of the Good Samaritan is another Lucan gem. The three protagonists saw the state of the half- dead man. For the two clergy the demands of liturgical duty took priority over those of charity. For the Samaritan it was the opposite; the demands of compassion superseded those of business/duty. He saw the man’s plight, felt compassion for him, acted on his compassion, and provided for the man’s needs from his own funds. A friend in need is a friend in deed. Compassion without action is empty.

Every needy person is our neighbour from our shared humanity and from our Christian brotherhood and sisterhood with and in Christ. See how these Christians love one another! Do they? The Good Samaritan exemplifies how each of us should practice the corporal works of mercy in our daily lives.

Which of the three characters in the story are you most like? Who is your neighbour?

Fr Geoff O’Grady