15th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Luke 10:25-37
The lawyer asked Jesus who his neighbor was; Jesus answered by telling him to be a neighbor to those in need, like the Samaritan. It is never easy to go out of our way to help others in need, and we do need the example of others to catch our imagination.
I read the parable slowly, as I look at the needs I see around me, both near and far. In my family, in my neighborhood, in my country, in the world. I too ask Jesus, Who is my neighbor, and listen as he replies. In our times, we seem to be very good at finding reasons to speak less and less of solidarity and more and more of ourselves and our needs. The parable of the good Samaritan sounds as relevant today as it was in the times of Jesus. It does not allow us to find justification in our rationalizations, but tells us, ‘Go and do the same yourself’.
The point behind this lawyer’s second question would seem to be : We – God’s chosen people – are instructed to be loving and merciful towards one another : but does this instruction extend to the outsiders – to pagans ? to our own dissidents ?
The Samaritans were a breakaway group within Judaism – so Jesus’ championing of the Samaritan traveler makes it clear that God’s command to love has a broad extension. (So unpopular were the Samaritans, that some modern experts believe the lawyer could not bring himself to even use the word, ‘Samaritan’). Also, some experts observe that the beaten-up traveler might have appeared dead – so that the priest and the Levite feared ritual defilement through approaching a corpse. There’s a long tradition in the church of seeing the victim on the roadside as a symbol of Humanity waylaid and paralyzed by the forces of evil and sin – and of seeing the rescuer as a figure of Jesus coming as the savior to bind up our wounds and take care of us.
The religious officials in the story – the priest and the Levite – fail the test (probably the fear of ritual impurity prevents them from responding as neighbors to the stricken man). Meanwhile, the Samaritan, an ethnic and religious outsider, is the hero.
What is striking is how Jesus seems to ‘raise the bar’ when he is speaking to individuals. When he preaches generally to the crowd, he invites and encourages. But to the individuals who offer themselves, or ask further questions, he challenges them to go that bit further. Is this my experience of being a Christian? Where do I find myself being ‘stretched’?