“Go and Do Likewise”

“Go and Do Likewise”

by Robert Hamerton-Kelly

July 15, 2007

Scripture: Scriptures: Colossians 1: 2-14; Luke 10:25-37

“The one who showed mercy on him.’ And he said to them, ‘Go and do likewise.” — Luke 10:37

There are two well-known items in today’s reading: the Great Commandment and the Good Samaritan. The reading however, has a single point: that the disciple of Jesus performs love without regard to religion, ethnicity, culture, politics, gender, class, or any other conceivable human difference. We have here another instance of the outrageous humanism of the one who called himself, the “human being,” the “Son of Man.” Listen then to this teaching and go and do likewise, for this is the voice of the savior of the world, our Lord and our God. Let me simply point out the salient moments of the message.

Note first that all three of the kinds of Jewish clergy of that time are present. The lawyer who asks the question is probably a Pharisee, and the priest and Levite who ignore the wounded man are temple personnel. We are told that the lawyer is testing him and so the scene is set as a conflict between Jesus and his own religion. The unfolding of the conflict is quite subtle and easily misunderstood, especially these days when the premium is on Jesus being just another rabbi who did not seriously criticize his own religion.

In rabbinic fashion Jesus answers a question with a question: “What must I do to gain eternal life?” “What do you read in the Law?” “Thou shalt love God etc and thy neighbor as thyself.” “You are right!” Case closed? No; “who is my neighbor?” There is no possible quibbling about the first stipulation, to love God, but the second is open to interpretation. We might assume that the lawyer puts a strict constructionist interpretation on “neighbor,” namely that of Leviticus 19:18, from which he is quoting, “You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself…” where neighbor means your fellow Jew. The meaning of neighbor is restricted. Jesus opposes and corrects precisely this restriction by means of the story he tells.

Note further, that the lawyer summarizes the 613 stipulations of the religious law in the same way as the great contemporary rabbi Hillel did, by means of the regular ritual recitation of the synagogue called the Shema (“Love the Lord your God etc.”- Deuteronomy 6:5) and the Leviticus text. So one must acknowledge that Jesus is not original in this summary; his originality lies elsewhere, namely, in the definition of neighbor.

Note that Jesus tells a story rather than proposes a definition; he does not wish to sound like one of those “equal opportunity” declarations on job advertisements, and he does not wish to make direct accusations. By means of the story however he tells us that their religion itself makes it impossible for the top religious folk to fulfill the law. The law commands compassion, but it also prevents ritually significant figures from polluting themselves, and handling a corpse is polluting and the victim appeared from a distance to be dead. The point is that by obeying the law these representatives of the law disobeyed its main intention. The lawyer who asks the original question is also in bad faith, not really interested in eternal life but rather in trapping Jesus into a religious solecism. The whole scene is a portrayal of the self-defeating energies of religion. Religiosity defeats the intention of faith.

Only an infidel could do God’s will of boundless love. The Samaritan, who you all know belonged to a class and ethnicity despised by the Jews of that time for religious reasons, happened to be going that way too; he saw the wounded man and “was moved with compassion,” that is his emotions were engaged. Then he acted: “going to him, he bound up his wounds (tearing bandages off his own clothing?), treating them with oil and wine, lifted him (gently?) up onto his donkey, took him to an inn, paid the equivalent of two days wages for his care, and promised to look in on his way back to settle the bill. The sum of the story is that the true believers in Jesus’ ancestral religion, who believe that love of God and neighbor is primary, cannot act on that belief and remain faithful to their religion, while the one whom they regard as a heretic, fulfils the purpose of their law by acting compassionately. Bottom line? Religion can be bad for your soul. Who understood this best? Saul the Pharisee/Paul the Apostle.

So there are two impediments to love of God and neighbor in a religion that makes those commands central, ethnic and ritual. Love does not extend beyond the ethnic community, and ritual prevents compassion. How much better this story sounds than this abstract statement of the problem, but take my word, this is what the story is saying.

Once again we see reason why they crucified Jesus, and reason why we who wish to live as his disciples, should live universally and generously and be willing to pay the price. I think that despite our current cultural confusion the US is still a good place, perhaps the best, to live such a life. One has only to check the racism of the rest of the world to know that it is relatively easy in this regard to live as a Christian in this culture, the price is relatively low. Our lesson for today underlines the importance of such living for a disciple of Jesus.

And there are other marks of discipleship here; our life will be oriented always in love to God, and then to our fellow human beings without regard to any qualification other than that they are human. Human is the image of God.

Last week I was reading the letter to the Colossians and came upon this in the midst of that marvelous passage often read at weddings: Colossians 3:12-17: “…and let the peace of Christ guard your hearts, into which you were called in one body. And be (live as) thanksgivers…” The translations say “give thanks,” the text says “be thanksgivers.” What is the difference? I ‘m not clear but that day I decided to liver as a thanksgiver and simply say thanks whenever I encountered a person or circumstance. It was a way of acknowledging the image of God in the other human beings, and the compassion of God in what happens between us. I recommend living as a thanksgiver (The speller in my software insists that there is no such word as thanksgiver!).

I think the Samaritan lived that way, and the Samaritan is the model of a disciple of Jesus. Jesus wants us to live like that, and he doesn’t care about the correctness of our religion, just the quality of our compassion and our readiness to act on it. Are we not blessed to have such teaching? Are we not blessed to have such a teacher, who alone of teachers fulfils absolutely the love for God and neighbor he teaches?