Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Moral Genius of Jesus

Consider Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan.

"A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead with no clothes. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise." New International Version

Someone asks Jesus "Who is my neighbor" meaning "Is there a limit on the range of people to whom I have moral obligations?" So Jesus says "OK, imagine yourself having just been beaten up on the side of the road and left for dead. The Priest and the Levite, pillars of the community, walk on the other side. The Samaritan (religiously, racially, and probably morally in the "wrong" group), does help you. Now tell me that the people in the "right" group are your neighbor and the people in the "wrong" group are not your neighbor. All of a sudden the line between "us" and "them" starts to disappear, doesn't it?

Regardless of how you view Jesus theologically, you have to see this as a sheer stroke of moral brilliance.

14 comments:

Mike Darus said...

Hey,
You were listening! Don't forget the moral superiority of Jesus' version of the Golden Rule. Other versions are "Do good to those who do good to you" or "Don't do bad things to people you don't do bad things to you." You can fulfill those by having no contact with anyone! Jesus challenges his followers to think of ways to initiate random acts of kindness. It is a whole different level. Now, if we can only get it right!

Wakefield Tolbert said...

Just to be the Devil's Advocate here (and its come to my attention that the early Church actually HAD such a person to cross examine priests-to-be), what of this new modernist psychology that claims, Victor, that Jesus was far from the best example. We know from various studies (so it is said) that treating others as you would yourself is EXTREMELY dangerous to some people of fragile personalities or with certain mental states.

etc.

Wakefield Tolbert said...

That is to say, the Golden Rule is a little rusty by now?

Ilíon said...

WT: "That is to say, the Golden Rule is a little rusty by now?"

Not at all ... nor can it be supplanted by the so-called "Platinum Rule" ("Do unto others as they would have you do unto them") that some fool consultant to my former employer tried to claim is an improvement.


WT: "We know from various studies (so it is said) that treating others as you would yourself is EXTREMELY dangerous to some people of fragile personalities or with certain mental states."

Both the Golden Rule and the so-silly "Platinum Rule" presuppose *normal* human beings. It is no failing of the Golden Rule that there exist abnormal human beings.

Wakefield Tolbert said...

Bless you, my child.

The Council doth approve.

Ilíon said...

Ilíon: "Both the Golden Rule and the so-silly "Platinum Rule" presuppose *normal* human beings."

I wasn't clear enough in what I said.

Both these rules presuppose that the persons following the commands are normal human beings with a normal interest in living together in relative harmony with other normal human beings (and, after all, persons with certain mental states tend not to care about such things).

But, the Golden Rule works even if one is, say, a megalomaniac; for even a megalomaniac treating others as he wishes them to treat him will not *behave* as a megalomaniac. Whereas, the "Platinum Rule" immediately breaks down even when "the other" is normal (how do *I* reliably know how *you* desire that I treat you), and it is a disaster when one one tries to follow it when one knows that "the other" is a megalomaniac.

And the Golden Rule recognizes the inescapable fact that we all are (and must be) egocentric, whereas the "Platinum Rule" tries to pretend that we are not, or, at least, that we can be not egocentric. But we cannot be other than we are, and we each are and must be at the center of our relationships to all other things (including in our relationship to God).

normajean said...

Victor wrote:

Now tell me that the people in the "right" group are your neighbor and the people in the "wrong" group are not your neighbor. All of a sudden the line between "us" and "them" starts to disappear, doesn't it?

Victor, I'm not being sarcastic, but can you or someone please unpack this entry a little more for me? I'd like to see what you are all seeing here.

Ilíon said...

The Old Testiment (one example is Leviticus 19:18) commands: "love your neighbor as yourself."

Even for someone not seeking to know the limits of what he can "get away with," this command leads to two questions:
1) What does it mean to "love my neigbor" (i.e. what does "love" maan?
2) *Who* is my neighbor?


Though, at the same time, I suspect that VR (being a "liberal") will try to believe, though deny in practice, that there are no limits at all to who is one's neighbor.

Wakefield Tolbert said...

Without being smarypants here, the temptation is overwhelming to ask "does this include that weird dude who has all those cars on blocks in his front yard and keeps mumbling 'give my regards to *hick* Broadway, tell them I'll be there..'"

legodesi said...

I think Vic might be saying that the black and white distinction between "right" group of people and "wrong" group of people fails essentially, since the hero of his parable is a Samaritan.

Wakefield Tolbert said...

I think you're right, but I was playing the Devil's Advocate on this one due to not having seen the Mod Psyche take on the Golden Rule until someone brought it up to me a few months back.

This was that opportunity.

normajean said...

Thanks, legodisi =) But I'm still confused =(

Ilíon said...

Might one suggest that you offer some sort of clue as to where your confusion lies?

legodesi said...

=] Oh okay.