Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Luke 10:25-37; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5; Psalm 148; Ezra 8
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is well known. The compassion and practical care provided to the injured man is remembered in the names of many healthcare facilities. Legal protections for passers-by who help strangers are known as Good Samaritan Laws. Yet in our familiarity with the story, we sometimes overlook the more challenging aspects of the parable and why Jesus told it.
The legal expert wanted to know how he could inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him to recall what the Law says, and he says that he needs to love God completely, and love his neighbour. Realising the monumental nature of that task, Luke tells us that the lawyer wanted to justify himself. The probably wanted to wrangle over the legal technicalities and make his task more manageable. Once Jesus told him how to figure out who his neighbours were, he would love them appropriately. The implications seems to be that he would not need to concern himself with those who fell below the ‘neighbour standard.’
The story of the Good Samarian shatters such thinking. For Jesus’ Jewish audience, the Samaritans were clearly non-neighbours. They were descended from Jewish exiles who had taken on many of the cultural and religious practices of other nations. As such, they were regarded as traitors and religiously corrupt to the ‘true’ Jews. Jesus’ parable would have astonished them. The equivalent today would involve putting the most despised, ungodly type of person into the role of the hero.
Jesus rejects the whole approach taken by the lawyer. He thought he could decide how to treat people by first categorising them. Those who were his neighbours, he would treat as neighbours; those who were not neighbours he could treat differently (and to a lower standard). His challenge was to figure out who qualified as a neighbour. Throughout history, atrocities have been committed against those seen as non-neighbours. Those from the other tribe, the other race, the other side of the tracks are different from us, so we may treat them differently. Some claim the human embryo or foetus is not a person, and therefore we do not need to treat them like we would persons. What we would view as unethical in how we treat persons, we this is ethically acceptable towards non-persons.
Jesus turns the focus onto the lawyer’s character. His story shows someone who would have been viewed as a non-neighbour acting like a good neighbour. Jesus calls on the lawyer to act like a neighbour by being merciful. Similarly, we are to exemplify the character of God in our actions. Whether with neighbours, strangers, or the unborn, we should act with mercy, love and justice. We should seek to bring healing and comfort because this is how God acts, regardless of the personhood of the subject. Even with animals, our ethical responsibilities are not settled by determining whether they are persons or not. We should care for the needs of animals appropriately because this exemplifies God’s character (Proverbs 12:10). Our primary concern should be to image God appropriately and demonstrate his attributes to a watching world.