14th July 2019
In a certain city people were coming out of the church after Mass. Many saw a man lying at the side of the road bleeding. He had fallen from his bicycle as someone had tried to steal it from him. Nearly all kept walking by afraid of becoming involved. A young couple, both suffering from drug addiction, saw the man and immediately went and helped him, arranging to take him to the nearby hospital. Don’t we know in the gospel who acted in the way Christ invites us to respond?
Today’s gospel is about the essence of our religion: faith in God is expressed in concrete acts of love.
This gospel starts off with a lawyer trying to trap Jesus by asking him what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked him what was written in the law. He quotes the law stating ‘you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself’. But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus: “And who is my neighbour?’
Jesus instead of going into the details of the law and quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures tells the poignant story of the Good Samaritan. Very cleverly Jesus points out the difference between ‘knowing the law’ and ‘fulfilling the law’. For him the most important thing was not church worship but love. Church worship is important but if at times there is a clash between the two, then love has absolute priority.
In the Gospel parable the first to see the half-dead man is the Jewish priest. If the victim were a non-Jew or dead and the priest touched him he would have been defiled or ritually impure and would have had to go back to Jerusalem for purification. So he passed by on the other side. The Levite, (a member of the tribe involved in Temple worship) came next and followed the example of the priest. He also passed by on the other side. Next came a Samaritan trader who took care of the victim.
The Jewish listeners of Jesus would have been appalled that the hero of the story was not a Jew but a member of the hated Samaritans. For a long time there was ‘bad blood’ between these two peoples. This hated enemy is the one who shows compassion. He bandaged the wounds of the victim, then lifted him on his own animal meaning he had to walk himself and took him to an inn and cared for him. He paid the innkeeper and said he would pay whatever else was necessary on his way back. He really put himself out for the victim. The Samaritan was a carer. Carers are special people, they are the salt of the earth. They don’t care out of a sense of duty but because their heart will not allow them to do otherwise.
Jesus does not tell us in the story if the man robbed was a Jew or a non-Jew, whether he even believed in God. Was he a good or a bad person? The lawyer who asked the question at first focused on himself and on the need to justify himself. He is prepared to debate the question of ‘who is my neighbour’ in an abstract way. But Jesus deals with his questions in a very concrete manner. He is not interested in a vague question like ‘who is my neighbour?’ The danger with that is we may limit neighbour to those we know and live close by, those with the same religious beliefs or skin colour. Jesus is telling us very clearly that what makes us neighbours is our generous attending to anyone in need. He is inviting us to go beyond labels or names like Christian, Catholic, Muslim, those who have AIDS, divorcees, and women who may have had an abortion. He is asking us to cross borders and boundaries we may have grown up with. There are very few of us who don’t have some prejudices. At times, don’t we all pass by on the other side? The sins of the priest and Levite were those of omission, not commission. The former may be our worst sins even if we don’t always think of them as such.
Do we recognise ourselves in the priest and the Levite? We can attend Sunday Mass, pray daily yet may not get involved with people in need especially if we can help. The story at the beginning is an indication of how we can make a distinction between loving God and loving our neighbour. As we read in 1 John 4.20 – Anyone who says ‘I love God and hates anyone is a liar, since not to love the person that he can see, cannot love God whom he has never seen’. This leaves no room for doubt.
In real life, Jesus lived out to the fullest what it means to be a Good Samaritan. As the second reading says: “He is the image of the unseen God”. His whole life was a concrete response to whoever the neighbour in need was – Jew, Samaritan, adulterous woman, prostitutes, Roman centurion, tax collectors, sinners etc. He still wants to be the Good Samaritan to each of us. He wants to bind up our wounds which may be our fears, our anxieties or whatever. It was costly for the Good Samaritan to look after the man who fell among robbers. It actually cost Jesus his life to help us.
‘Who is my neighbour?’ asked the Samaritan. Jesus’ answer was: anyone in need of my help. What kind of a neighbour am I? And who am I willing to treat as my neighbour?
“Lord Jesus, praise you for being the Good Samaritan for us at all times if we allow you to help us. May the Holy Spirit enable us to be Good Samaritans for those we meet and can help. Amen.”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA