The issue [in this text] is fundamental: how do we inherit eternal life? ‘Inherit’ assumes inheritance, promise. … ‘Eternal life’: focus is quality rather than quantity. It is sharing in God’s life. …
Jesus affirms that to love God and to love one’s neighbour is indeed the correct answer. ‘Do this,’ he declares, ‘and you shall live’ (10:28). These words find their echo at the end of our passage in 10:37, ‘Go and do likewise.’ Doing this commandment is the way to eternal life.
Jesus is talking about loving God and neighbour – actually doing it.
This raises a larger issue. What is the relation between the two commandments? [For some] Christians, there is a real tension between the two. ‘I want to care, but my prior loyalty must be to uphold what I believe.’ Or at worst: my devotion to Christ leads me to behaviour that is destructive for others. People devoutly committed to a god are often a cause of much evil in the world.
To resolve the dichotomy by explaining that I love my neighbour as part of loving God because God commands it is an unstable solution. It makes love for neighbour secondary and invites the possibility that when I love my neighbour I am not really doing so; I am really loving God.
The pieces come together differently when we think differently about God. If God is to be thought of as the projection of those human value systems which see power and control as primary, … , then the problem is already in our theology, because such values are in conflict with love for neighbour. Unfortunately, the language of worship too often reflects such values, despite our efforts to explain that the language of kingship and court deference is metaphorical.
Where … theology has an image of God whose being is loving and whose life is the creative and redeeming out pouring of such love, then loving one’s neighbour is not a secondary obligation ‘which the king requires’, but an invitation to participate in the life and being of God.
Jesus tells the famous parable about the Samaritan. It is profoundly theological [as] outlined above. The priest and Levite appear as those for whom the two commandments are so far apart that the first blocks the second commandment. This would be so if purity concerns were their motivation for neglect. It would be so in a different sense if they were just apathetic. Jesus’ story reflects criticism of the theological stance of the temple functionaries. Today we might want to ask about the system. We know how structures can so exhaust people that they end up failing at the most basic level of what was the original inspiration of the system. Jesus is also being typically subversive in having a despised Samaritan play the God role.
Luke takes up this subversive piece of theology in order to deal with the lawyer’s question: ‘Who is my neighbour?’ Are there limits? … Might it also include undesirables, Samaritans, Gentiles? Does it include women, people with disabilities, lepers and others frequently excluded? Ultimately it is a theological question: whom does God love? Luke has Jesus tell the parable and then neatly reverse the question: Who proved to be neighbour to the man who was beaten up (10:36)? This does two things: it makes us realise that in human community every human person is a neighbour and potentially a caring human being; and it breaks down the hierarchy of helper and helped.
But what about the bandits? Societies where there is oppression produce bandits. Societies which seek to bring dignity to all are less likely to produce bandits. The message of the kingdom was about a transformed society, but also about one that was liberated from structures which oppressed. This individual encounter belongs in that public arena if it is not to be trivialised into an exhortation to care just for individuals. … no aspect of reality is to be ignored; in all of life, in individuals, in community, in structure and organisation (not least, religious organisation), in creation God is God and God is love and God invites us to participate in and become God’s action in the world.
William Loader (summary)