A few years ago, Andy Murray was regarded by most English people as a bad-tempered Scottish tennis player. This week, everyone is claiming him as the greatest British tennis player since Fred Perry. He’s still Scottish and he still gets bad-tempered when he’s not playing at his best. What has changed is our attitude to him, because of his success.
In today’s Gospel, a lawyer tries to score a point against Jesus by asking a difficult question: ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ As usual, Jesus returns with another question, and the first few strokes in the rally are routine. Then the lawyer challenges: ‘But who is my neighbour?’ and Jesus draws him in to the net with a story, which turns his question on its head. The lawyer is asking ‘Who deserves to be treated as my neighbour?’ but the story forces him to admit that, like the Samaritan, he should be asking ‘Who do I decide to treat as my neighbour?’ The unreturnable winner follows quickly: ‘Go and do the same’.
There are lots of slogans that narrow our sense of neighbourliness: ‘Look after number one’; ‘Family come first’; ‘England for the English’; ‘Not one of us’; and there are many more subtle ways in which we attempt to limit our responsibilities. But the challenge of the Gospel is that, because we are all children of God and because Jesus died and rose again to save the whole of humanity, we can never say to anyone ‘You are not my neighbour’. Because we are all parts of one body, if one part is sick, the whole body suffers. Compassion must become our standard response to those in need. The only answer to the lawyer’s question is ‘Everyone’.