China has been doing some soul searching this week after horrific video footage showed a two year old girl, Yueyue, knocked over by a van and then ignored by at least eighteen of her fellow human beings. Finally a woman did go to her aid, a true Samaritan , as not only did she not walk by but she was apparently a scavenger, a garbage collector, one of the least privileged in society.
This morning it was announced that Yueyue had died and that there was talk of bringing in a new law which would make it illegal not to go to the aid of a stranger in need, there was also some discussion of why so many had quite clearly knowingly ignored or avoided a child in desperate need, including that some might have been motivated by fear of litigation or of being accused of causing the injuries in the first place. The discussion made me think about laws and our behaviour, particularly as the gospel reading this week includes Jesus telling the experts in the Law that the greatest commandments are to love God and your neighbour and that on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. It is a peculiarly apt and poignant reading in the light of these events, particularly as, in the gospel of Luke, Christ's injunction to love our neighbour as ourselves leads on to the story of the Good Samaritan in answer to the question, "Who is my neighbour?"
All societies have laws and need laws, but rules and regulations arise out of human frailty and can themselves be flawed. We have all heard of instances where the law has been correctly applied but the result has seemed unjust; the law has been a blunt tool in the hands of fallible humanity and might be said to have failed to achieve its intention or to be true to underlying principles. As Christians we are commanded to love God and to love each other; those are not the kind of rules and regulations that can be simply achieved, they are more something we have to devote ourselves to as a way of life, they are overarching principles upon which more specific and measurable rules and laws should be based. Laws are important, but the principles which underlie them give them meaning and make them more than just a set of dos and don'ts. This is why God aims to write his law on our hearts, because laws should not just be sentences written on paper, they should be a living attitude and ethos in the hearts and minds of all of us. He also aims to give us hearts of flesh, not stone, because hearts of flesh respond to the suffering and pain of others.
I am not sure that bringing in a law that compels us to help others is the right approach (although removing a law that makes people afraid to help might be.) We should not go to the aid of a child because we are afraid of breaking the law; it is something we should do instinctively out of compassion and concern for another. A law like that should be written on every heart that is made of flesh and not of stone.