What Is Written? … How Do You Read?

Two significant questions: what is written in the Law and how do you read? These are the questions which Jesus puts to “a certain lawyer” who was trying to put him to the test. In good Socratic fashion, Jesus turns his question about eternal life to these two interrelated questions. What happens belongs to education itself: truth is drawn out of the lawyer in spite of himself. He responds with what has come to be known in the Christian understanding as the Summary of the Law: the love of God and the love of neighbour.
It is a profound ethical teaching that unites God and our humanity. The love of the one requires the love of the other. In terms of the Torah or Law, it draws upon Deuteronomy and Leviticus in the Hebrew Scriptures and states the ethical principle that belongs to Judaism, Christianity, and beyond. It belongs to the universal ethical teachings to which everyone is subject, what C.S. Lewis called the Tao, deliberately using an ancient Chinese term meaning The Way to encapsulate a common sensibility about an overarching ethical principle that speaks to the truth and dignity of our humanity. It is the counter to the subjectivism of values.
The last two Chapels of the School year were on Monday and Tuesday of this week. Just as we ended on the note of wisdom with the 11s and 12s last week, so it seemed appropriate to end with the ethical principles that have been with us throughout the year for the Junior School and the 10s. It was also the last Chapels for a number of faculty, some of whom have been here at the School and in the Chapel far longer than I have been. We say farewell to Mrs. Taya Shields, Mrs. Michelle Belliveau, Mr. Paul Hollett, and Mr. Kim Walsh among others. My thanks to them for their support and consideration over these many years.
The two questions belong to the setting for one of the most famous parables of Jesus, the parable of the Good Samaritan. The lawyer had answered the question about what is written in the Law and he read it correctly, Jesus said, adding “this do and you shall live.” But the lawyer, Luke tells us, “willing to justify himself” asks, “and who is my neighbour?” It is a sceptical and cynical question of disdain and dismissal, a rejection of the compelling conjunction of the love of God and neighbour by denying any obligation towards the latter. In response Jesus tells the parable of what has come to be known as the Good Samaritan.
A certain lawyer, a certain man, a certain Samaritan. Such is the language of parables. It is a story told with a meaning for all by way of such literary devices. We are to find ourselves in the story. We are like the “certain man” who “went down from Jerusalem to Jericho,” symbols of the heavenly and earthly city respectively, and who “fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him and departed, leaving him half-dead.” It is an image of the human condition in our sins and sufferings.
How do we deal with a suffering world of which we are a part? In the parable, a certain Priest and a Levite see but pass by the one who is in need. But “a certain Samaritan,” the outsider of the outsiders in the ancient Jewish world, “came where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him,” and took care of him. It is not about ignoring one another but recognizing our common humanity not because of but regardless of particular identities and differences.
The story is told for no other purpose than to convict our consciences about our relationship to one another. Each of us is really neighbour to each other. “Our life and death is bound up with our neighbour,” as the Desert Fathers noted long ago. We don’t live simply for ourselves and our immediate self-interests and ambitions which, often as not, result in animosity and division. “Which of these three, thinkest thou,” Jesus asks the lawyer, “was neighbour unto him who fell among the thieves?” The phrase “thinkest thou” mirrors the phrase “readest thou.”
The educational point is clear. The ethical teaching about what is written and read has to be acted out in our lives. This is to follow the Tao, the universal sensibility about finding ourselves in a world which is there for thought, we might say, and as such is to be honoured and respected. That extends to our lives with one another in the passing on of ideas and principles to which we are all subject in one way or another. What moves in the action of the certain Samaritan is the unity of God and man in the compassion of Christ. That compassionate care and regard for one another belongs to the great ethical teachings of the world’s religions and philosophies in the recognition of our life together in the pursuit of the good of one another. To love God with the whole of our being requires the love of neighbour.
Such teachings have been at the center of Chapel from the beginning of the year, teachings and questions that never go away and are there for us to wrestle with whatever the circumstances of our world and day. It was in 1943 at Durham in northern England, in the dark days of World War II, that C.S. Lewis gave his famous lectures entitled The Abolition of Man. The loss of the ethical, of the Tao, is the loss of our humanity. Paradoxically, in the collection of ethical statements culled from a large range of cultures and traditions, Lewis did not mention the love of God and love of neighbour explicitly but it is implicit in the argument. The ethic of compassion compels us towards the care and respect of one another.
All the best in your exams and have a good summer ‘reading’ break. Godspeed and blessings to all who are leaving us after so many, many years of faithful and devoted service and teaching.
(Rev’d) David Curry
Chaplain, English & ToK teacher
Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy

King’s-Edgehill School is located in Mi'kma'ki, the unceded ancestral territory of the Mi’kmaq People.