Year C: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Good Samaritan
Luke 10: 25-37
There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise, a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds, and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’ Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
- “Who is my neighbor?” This story illustrates the challenges in moving from the knowledge of spirituality to action in our daily lives. What gets in the way of your “doing” love of God and neighbor?
- When have you experienced a situation where church law or correct social protocol conflicted with serving what love demanded of you in the moment? How did you handle it?
- This parable shifts the reader’s focus from “who is my neighbor” to “to whom am I a good neighbor”. How are you doing with being a neighbor to those who do not fit within, or agree with your personal thinking, religious beliefs, social circles, politics etc.? How do we go about this?
- Are there people in our society whom we have given ourselves permission not to love? Who are they? What are the reasons? What do you think Jesus would think of our reasons?
- Describe a time when compassion for another moved you into action on their behalf.
Luke 10: 25-37
Sr. Mary M. McGlone CSJ
The parable of the Good Samaritan is recounted only by Luke. It was occasioned by the lawyer’s question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and is part of a longer exposition on the two great commandments. This narrative explains the ramifications of loving one’s neighbor as oneself; next week’s Gospel about Mary and Martha (10:38-42) interprets the command to love God with one’s whole heart, being, strength and mind. Based on a series of questions, answers and counter-questions, this dialogue between Jesus and the lawyer illustrates Christian commitment as a challenge that questions traditional values and shatters stereotypical modes of behavior while offering a new and radical alternative — a life motivated not by law but by love.
As for the lawyer’s initial question about eternal life, contemporary believers should keep in mind his Jewish background and realize that he was, in effect, asking: “What must I do to be a part of the age of the messiah?” or “What must I do to belong to God’s people?” Jesus’ response was a combination of two texts, Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Jesus was not unique in combining these two precepts, but was unique in correlating the two as having equal importance.
Moreover, Jesus expanded the Jewish notion of “neighbor.” Traditionally it referred to one’s fellow countrymen, but Jesus broadened it to include all people, as is illustrated in the compassionate caring of the Samaritan. It should be noted that a Jewish audience would not have been surprised or shocked that the Levite and priest passed by the robbed man who was beaten and left for dead. In fact, they were observing the laws regarding ritual purity (Num 9:11-19; Lev 21:1-3, 10-11). More shocking was the fact that the virtuous character in Jesus’ parable was a Samaritan. Regarded by the Jews as heretics and schismatics, Samaritans were descendants of Jews who had intermarried with Assyrians when they defeated the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C.E. Because of this, the Samaritans were considered useless sinners, and the Jews went out of their way to avoid them.
Knowing all this, Jesus told his parable and asked the scholar of the law, “Which of these … was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” How much strength must it have cost the lawyer to answer honestly! Jesus was redefining the law and insisting that those who claim to love God must love their neighbor as themselves. Neighbor would no longer be determined in terms of territorial proximity or shared nationality, but in terms of benevolence and need. “Neighborliness is not a quality of other people; it is simply their claim on ourselves. We have literally no time to sit down and ask ourselves whether so-and-so is our neighbor or not. We must get into action and obey; we must behave like a neighbor to him” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Testament to Freedom, Harper San Francisco: 1990)
Loving Others as we Love Ourselves
When we tell fables and stories, we often include lots of dialogue and details that give us insight into the interior motivations of the central characters. Think about the classic fable of “The Tortoise and the Hare,” which gives us the hare’s internal monologue to clue us in to his arrogance, narcissism and complacency. The details serve as signposts that guide us to the storyteller’s ultimate purpose.
Many of the tales told in the Bible don’t include this level of detail. They share only the most relevant of details — this man was a priest, that man was a Samaritan — and they focus on the actions that move the story along, leaving us to fill in the rest.
The story of the good Samaritan is a famous example of this. We don’t know a lot about the main characters — only their status in society and the fact that they were all traveling down the same road in Judea on the same day. So, we tend to imagine the priest and the Levite as if they were like the hare — smug and arrogant, obviously villains.
But the absence of any other character details means that it is just as possible that the priest was overworked and emotionally exhausted when he came upon the man. And perhaps the Levite was responding to an urgent summons from his pregnant daughter and was preoccupied by his worry and haste.
What then? If the priest and the Levite are decent humans just like us, then what was the Samaritan’s super-power? Let’s return to the details Jesus gives us and fill in a little bit of what we know about human nature.
The priest and the Levite travel along the road to Jericho, which is dangerous, but their social status provides some assurance, and they are in their own land. They come upon the beaten man, and they likely feel a twinge of sympathy, but they also think something along the lines of “too bad for him” and feel mild gratification that this person’s plight is not their own. Each crosses the road and returns to his own worries and concerns.
The Samaritan comes along. He is cautious, very aware of his vulnerability as a despised outsider. He has avoided making eye contact with people on the road so far, not wanting to draw attention. To distract himself, he thinks about how much he is looking forward to celebrating the holiday with his cousins in Jericho before returning home to Samaria.
Then, he comes upon the half-dead man on the side of the road, and he sees the same fears he has been trying to contain in himself come to life in painful and explicit detail. “But for the grace of God go I,” you might imagine him whispering.
He gets to work, pulling oil and wine out of his bag and dressing the man’s wounds. He tends each one as if it was his own, knowing that tomorrow it very well could be.
When Jesus says that the Samaritan was “moved” with compassion to treat the neighbor as himself, he implicitly suggests that many of us may feel compassion without being moved to action by it, as the priest and the Levite likely were. We feel compassion from a distance, with our social status, privileges, self-concern, and platitudes serving as buffers that protect our pain from other people’s pain.
But the Samaritan was so present to his own vulnerability, his own limitations, his own deep dependence on the mercy and goodwill of others that he was able to feel the victim’s pain as his own, and his feeling of compassion became a radical act of solidarity and kinship.
The Scriptures tell us time and again that we must love our neighbor as ourselves, and in this Gospel story Jesus suggests to us that in order to do this, we must be willing to look past our titles, uniforms, masks, and responsibilities to see ourselves in our neighbors.