A lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
What must I do to inherit eternal life?
As we read the gospels we come across this question again and again. Sometimes it is asked explicitly, and sometimes Jesus treats it as ‘the question that is not asked’ and gives us the answer anyway.
As we journey through our lives of faith, how often do we ponder on this important question? Do we assume we know the answer? Do we assume that our membership of a church community has given us a ‘free pass’? Are we one of those who believe that Christ’s sacrifice for humanity has resolved the issue and there is no longer anything for us to worry about? Do we believe that God is waiting to greet us with open arms, no matter what sort of life we may have led in this world?
Today’s reading presents us with one of those moments when the question is asked explicitly, and Jesus’ reply makes it clear that our passage from this world into eternal life cannot be taken for granted … we need to prove that it matters to us!
The lawyer who posed the question appears to have been a devout man. He understood and lived according to the two greatest commandments: love both God and neighbour. But, the lawyer was not satisfied. Love of God seemed quite straightforward. But, what about the command to love your neighbour as yourself? Who is this neighbour?
I have been asked this question recently! A parishioner understood the command but struggled with their own limitations. How could they love the nameless neighbour who was living in such desperate poverty on the other side of the world? Money can be sent, but does that really fulfil the command to love your neighbour as yourself?
Of course, the sharing of our wealth is one thing. But, does the writing of a cheque or the electronic transfer of a few pounds match up to the action of the Good Samaritan?
The Good Samaritan certainly does use money in the way he cares for the brutally injured man, but first he gives of himself. Unlike the priest and Levite, the Samaritan makes the effort of stopping his journey to apply bandages, oil and wine. He also transports him to a place of safety where he might recover from his ordeal. Then, the Samaritan gives of his worldly wealth.
The parable of the Good Samaritan offers us another reminder of the answer to the question: What must I do to inherit eternal life? We must show that our declaration of the commandment to love God and neighbour is more than an oft-repeated formula. We must be ready, as we journey the paths of our daily lives, to stop, take that detour, and love our neighbour as Christ loves us.