At the time of Jesus, people often debated about the commandments: which is the most important? What exactly do they mean? They used to argue, not just about the ten main commandments, but about all the other laws that explained how to put them into practice. Jesus says that two of the commandments sum up all the others: Love God and love your neighbour. This sounds simple, but it’s not. In St Luke’s Gospel, Jesus follows up this saying with the story of the Good Samaritan, a challenging story about what loving your neighbour can actually involve.
This weekend the first reading fills in some of the background to this simple commandment with a few examples: you must not molest or oppress the stranger (because you were strangers once); you must not be harsh with the widow and the orphan; if you lend money to the poor, you must not charge them interest; if you take someone’s essential clothing as a pledge, you must give it back before nightfall.
These are simple rules, and there are many more like them in the Jewish law. They embody what is sometimes called ‘the golden rule’ – treat everyone as you would like to be treated yourself. Most of us are quite selective about how we apply this rule: we treat some people well, especially those who are like us, but we are less concerned about others. But the scriptures insist that the test of a good society is how it treats its weakest members: the strangers, the poor, the sick, the widowed, the orphans.
How do we think our society is measuring up to this rule? How are strangers treated? Who is protecting the poor from loan sharks and pay-day lending companies? How is the available wealth shared between the haves and the have-nots? What can each of us do to change the culture of selfishness and suspicion of others?
Most of us love ourselves and we treat ourselves pretty well: the scriptures ask us to treat others in exactly the same way.