This instruction of Jesus which concludes today’s gospel reminds me of another moment in Jesus’ life when he gave the same instruction. It was that most solemn moment of the Last Supper. In John’s gospel, having had washed the disciples’ feet, Jesus tells them to do the same thing he had just done. If we take the other three gospels, where we have the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus does practically the same thing. Having given his body and blood, he instructs the disciples to “do this” in his memory.
The lawyer in today’s gospel, to whom Jesus addresses his instruction, had asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life. Being the good teacher that he is, instead of lecturing him Jesus tells him a story. Everybody likes stories, especially ones we can relate to. It was not unheard of in Jesus’ time that someone would be mugged on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. It was a dangerous journey often rife with robbers well-hidden among the hills of the winding, deserted road. Jesus tells the story of someone who had gone through that unfortunate experience, and left bleeding to death on the side of the road. Two people pass by, a priest and a Levite, both people of the temple. If they had touched the bleeding man they would have become ritually impure. They had a choice, and instead of helping the man with all the consequences, both decided to keep going. A third person comes by, a Samaritan. We know that there was no love lost between the Jews and the Samaritans. And yet, Jesus tells us that this man went out of his way to help the poor victim. He tended to his wounds, he took him into an inn to recover, and he payed for all his expenses. For that stranger, the Samaritan spent his time and money. Moreover, he did not bother with the fact that, getting in contact with the victim’s blood would have made him “unclean” for temple-worship. Indeed, here was a man who understood what Jesus meant when he insisted that love is the highest commandment. It is superior to all other commands, laws, rules and regulations, of which the Jews had more than enough.
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This was the initial question presented to Jesus by the lawyer. Through his dialogue with Jesus it is clear that he had his priorities right. He knew that love of God and neighbor is supreme. His doubt was about the definition of neighbor. Is it just the person of my own clan, faith or country? By using a Samaritan in his story, Jesus showed in no uncertain terms that my neighbor can be anyone, no one excluded, even my enemy! This would have been very hard for many people listening to Jesus to digest!
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” I suppose this could easily have been our own question if we were to meet Jesus personally. We all want to attain eternal life. And we would not mind knowing from the Master himself if there were a shortcut! If we were to answer that question ourselves, we would probably have given different answers. I am sure that our answers would have included obeying the commandments, prayers, Masses, other expressions of piety, etc. The list could have been quite long. Jesus tells us that it all boils down to the one supreme law: that of unconditional love. “Love one another as I have loved you”, he once told us in the gospel. This is how he loved us, without any conditions, while we were still his enemies as St Paul would say.
As someone once said: Love one another. It’s as easy as this, as difficult as this.