Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37
Jesus’ choice of the Samaritan as the hero of his story may have made his audience wince. Even the Lawyer in the story does not use his name in his response but he only says the one who showed mercy. The Jews and Samaritans did not get along well at all. Even though they had common ancestry and shared scriptures, their animosity would not be reduced. They had strong reasons too, namely racial, political and religious. Racially the Samaritans were Semites the same as Jews, but had inter marriages among them which the Jews despised. Politically often the Samaritans had collaborated with the enemies of Judah. Religiously Samaritans did not accept all the scriptures and did not accept Jerusalem but had their Temple on Mount Garizim. Generally the Samaritans refused any hospitality to a Jew passing through Samaria. History also tells us that five centuries after Christ Samaritans and Christians also fought and the relationship between Christians and Jews was far from being a happy one. In this context we have the Parable of Good Samaritan. However we have Luke’s purpose of telling this parable is to teach his community a lesson about neighbourliness. Jesus tells the lawyer the necessary principle, namely love your neighbor as you love yourself. The universal behavior of people is plainly visible and it continues to exist as it did in the time of Jesus, namely the divide on the basis of religion, culture and language. The Samaritan gives us a hope that there is the possibility of rectifying the situation in the kingdom of Jesus.
The first reading taken from the Book of Deuteronomy is one of the most consoling and joyful words given to people. It was the time for Moses to take leave of his people as he could not reach the Promised Land. It simply says that God is our life and that our lives can reveal God. It recounts an important moment in our understanding of humanity and God. Through their special bond with God, the people have committed themselves to observing all that God commands them. The law is God’s gift to them, making clear just what is expected of them as chosen people. They are called upon to have total loyalty to the covenant. They have to be loyal to God as he was to them. Moses also reminds them of the preciousness of the law. The law is entirely compatible with who they are as God’s holy people. The law is given for their benefit and they have to appreciate its value and not in any way dishnour the law. It something they ought to treasure in their heart. If the chosen people keep his commandments they will prosper in the Promised Land.
The second reading, Colossians 1:15-20 is one of the most significant texts in the whole New Testament. It tells us about the divinity of Jesus and that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation. All creation was in him, through him and for him. Paul had already praised the Colossians for the strength of their faith and he tells them that he always prays for them. Now Christ through his incarnation has made God visible to man. Man’s sonship with God indeed existed even before creation began. Since all is created in and through him, Christ is the centre of unity. Paul convinces them that all created things have a purpose and fulfillment in Christ. Christ is the active and final cause of all of them. In his divinity he was there before all else and in his humanity he is first in the rank of importance. As creator he continues to sustain all creation and keeps it in existence. In his life on earth Christ brought God’s saving love to bear on the fallen human race. He shed his blood in order to reconcile everything to God. His preeminence shines forth in his being the head of the Church and firstborn from the dead. He is the sole intermediary between God and the creatures. By his obedience, Jesus has reconciled all humanity to God.
The Gospel of today presents us a beautiful story of the Good Samaritan, the man who goes out of his way to help a person in need. The setting revolves around a lawyer attempting to test Jesus in a verbal battle regarding his teaching on inheriting eternal life. Jesus counters him with his knowledge of the law regarding salvation and discovers that the man his well versed in his knowledge of scriptures. He tells him that it contains in his love of God and Neighbour. Here we have the parable that explains the concept of neighbor in our real life. For the Jews the concept of a neighbor did not go beyond a fellow Jew. The basic teaching Luke draws from the parable is that any time a person is found in need is sacred time and any place a person is found in need is a sacred place and, regardless of who the person is a Christian must reach out and help. The Good Samaritan is presented as a model to be followed by every Christian. In other words Luke makes this parable an example story to be followed by every Christian.
Thus today’s Gospel story presents us a way of life for a Christian. It is one of the most famous stories told by Jesus. There are four people in this story. There is a priest, who is naturally a Jew and, besides, a man of deep religious convictions. There is a Levite, also a Jew, and also a religious person and a member of the priestly community. There is a Samaritan, whom we only know as some kind of a merchant. We know nothing about his religious convictions but it seems that his religious faith is irrelevant to the story. Finally, there is a fourth person lying severely injured on the road side. The identity of the person and his profession is uncertain. We can safely presuppose that he is a Jew, who perhaps was a merchant or a traveler and now is in serious physical trouble. But he could have been a Samaritan, or another priest, or another Levite, or someone else altogether. The details are not relevant here. The only thing that matters is that here is a human person who is deeply in need of help. In such a situation, the story indicates how response may be made by an individual. The person who goes to help the other forgets everything else and goes beyond self to serve the one in need. This tells us that our faith is meant to bind us closer to all persons irrespective of their origin or religion. If it does not unite us then it cannot be true or good faith.
Jesus tells his audience to forget about the religious obligations at the moment. The priest and the Levite on the way to the Temple in Jerusalem and could not risk coming in physical contact with the injured man if, as was most likely, he was bleeding. Contact with blood would have rendered them “unclean” and prevented them from carrying out their Temple obligations. Jesus tells them to forget about the moral condition of the person to be helped, namely how the injured man got into this situation. He may have been quite stupid to be travelling alone along a road that was notorious for robberies and hijackings. He might even have been a highwayman who had been pretending to have been beaten up by those to rob others. For Jesus, in telling this story, none of these considerations mattered. What did matter was that this injured man now had a higher priority than the concerns of the other three. But only one of the three responded to the injured man’s immediate and urgent need. The Samaritan was the one who broke his journey to apply first aid, and care for him and finally brought him to the inn where he even paid the expenses.
Jesus himself probably told this story to shock the hearers into rethinking how God’s grace works and the kind of people through whom that grace may come. The situation can take place at any time. Each of the person involved may have sufficient reason to keep away from helping the person in need and he can justify himself for reasons religious or otherwise. The story focuses the attention to the help coming from the least expected situation namely the enemy. He goes out of his way to help and this conclusion would naturally have shocked the audience. Jesus depicts the Samaritan as extremely gracious and caring as he comes to the aid of the injured Jew. In normal life situation, no Jew would have permitted a Samaritan to help him out. What Jesus tells them is that no one can control the avenues of God’s grace. The key word that Jesus uses in this story is “compassion” or “mercy”. This is not the same as pity. Compassion implies a deep feeling of brotherhood by which one can enter into the suffering of the other and share it. It means to suffer with. Moreover, the “neighbour” in the story is not so much the man who was helped. The neighbour, the Gospel says, is the one who is willing to show compassion to a stranger who is in need of compassion and help. If all of us really lived according to this way of seeing others, our world would become a transformed place. One can speak of the false gods of race, nation and tribalism. We can overcome these only through our compassion and help to the other.
Today’s story has very practical implications. Here we must remind ourselves that Jesus is not giving a “religious” teaching for an elite minority. He is telling all of us how to be truly human. It is the way all people are called to behave towards each other. The Gospel then reminds us that we must help those in need even if they are unlike us, even if we dislike them. It also reminds that we ought to recognize that we in constant need of help of others, particularly of our God, of whom we have so often made ourselves enemies. It also reminds that God’s grace comes to us in all forms and through all kinds of people. As the First Reading puts it, this Law is “not in heaven… nor is it beyond the seas” outside our reach. No, “it is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for your observance”. In other words, Jesus is calling us, not to be some kind of unnatural super-being, but to be true and simple, compassionate human person. He challenges us to look at things from God’s perspective, and be at the service of others.
It happened several years ago in the Paris opera house. A famous singer had been contracted to sing, and ticket sales were booming. In fact, the night of the concert found the house packed and every ticket sold. The feeling of anticipation and excitement was in the air as the house manager took the stage and said, Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your enthusiastic support. I am afraid that due to illness, the man whom you’ve all come to hear will not be performing tonight. However, we have found a suitable substitute we hope will provide you with comparable entertainment. The crowd groaned in disappointment and failed to hear the announcer mention the stand-in’s name. The environment turned from excitement to frustration. The stand-in performer gave the performance everything he had. When he had finished, there was nothing but an uncomfortable silence. No one applauded. Suddenly, from the balcony, a little boy stood up and shouted, Daddy, I think you are wonderful! The crowd broke into thunderous applause. We all need people in our Lives who are willing to stand up once in a while and say, I think you are wonderful.
Fr Eugene Lobo SJ, Rome