There’s a story about a man who was attacked by robbers and left lying half dead by the side of the road. You’ve probably heard it before – how two guys walked by and didn’t stop, and then a Samaritan stopped to help him and probably saved his life.
So it’s a story about compassion, right?
But it’s about “love thy neighbour,” isn’t it?
Well, kind of but not exactly…
Didn’t Jesus tell the story to show us how we should live?
Yes and no. Mainly no.
Are you going to stop talking in riddles and tell us what on earth you’re on about?
Yes. Yes, I am.
Let’s start with who it was that Jesus told this story to, and what this guy had asked him. (If you want to look it up in the Bible, it’s Luke 10:25-37.)
The initial question was one that many people ask: what do we have to do to get to heaven? To which Jesus’ answer seemed, on the face of it, to be: love God with your whole being, and love your neighbour as you love yourself. If the guy asking him had got the real point at that stage, he wouldn’t have asked the next question. (Spoiler: the real point is: you can’t.)
Because he didn’t get the real point, the guy went on to ask: who qualifies as my neighbour for the purpose of this rule? Because, come on, it’s not all that easy to love people as you love yourself so it can’t possibly apply to everyone, can it? You can’t tell me I have to love even that really annoying person who plays the drums when we’ve just put the kids to sleep, or the driver who cuts me up on the road, or the snooty work colleague who always manages to take credit for my work? Come on, Jesus, you’ve got to be realistic…
So Jesus tells him a story. The story doesn’t directly answer the question – he doesn’t really say who qualifies for receiving your love, instead he talks about how you go about being the loving person that we’re all commanded to be: how “loving your neighbour as you love yourself” translates into reality. And then he says:
Go and do the same. Do what this guy did in the story. Love your neighbour as you love yourself.
What he didn’t actually add was: I dare you. You can’t, can you?
None of us can. That’s the whole point – not just the whole point of the parable of the Good Samaritan, but the whole point of Jesus dying on the cross and rising from the dead. If all that we humans needed was a good teacher to tell us how we should live, there would have been no need for God to send his Son to be crucified for our sins.
“Go and do likewise” is not an instruction, it’s a dare, it’s a reminder that you can’t live up to God’s standards, you can’t obey the commandments fully – sure, you can be nice to a few people and help an old lady across the road and give money to charity and maybe even forgive someone who annoys you, but you can’t fully love God and love each and every person as you love yourself 24/7.
The realistic reply when Jesus reminds you of this commandment is not “oh, sure, I’ll do that, just let me check some details with you” but: oh, help, I can’t.
Remember that initial question this guy started with? The “what do we have to do to get to heaven” question? On the face of it, it may seem like Jesus’s answer is: love God with all your being and love your neighbour as you love yourself. But really, if we’re honest we know that we can’t.
So was he telling this guy to do the impossible? No. He was saying: if you’re asking what you have to do to get to heaven, this is the answer. Now, you and I both know that you can’t do that. So you need to understand that you can’t do anything to earn your way into heaven, you need to let go of that idea, and you need to come to me for help: I am the way.