FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
The readings from this reflection: Dt 30:1014; Ps 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37; Col 1:15-20; Lk 10:25-37
As we begin our Gospel reading today from the Gospel according to St. Luke, we read that Jesus was on his journey to Jerusalem when He was approached by a Jewish scholar of the law who had decided to test Jesus and possibly trap him in a legal entanglement. The lawyer began with the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded to the question with yet another question, asking, “What is written in the law?” The lawyer who had conceived himself to be the legal entangler now found himself legally entangled as he searched for a logical legal answer. His response was to quote Deuteronomy 6:4-5, which was and still is one of the most important prayers in the Jewish faith. Twice a day, every good Jew would quote this Scripture:
“Hear O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”
The law scholar also added:
“And with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Deuteronomy 6 is a reminder to God’s people of who God is, all that he has done, and the amazing opportunity that the people of God have to respond to him with love and adoration. The addition by the law scholar also affirmed the Jewish teaching to treat others as you yourself would want to be treated. Jesus affirmed the lawyer’s answer quite simply by saying “Do this and you will live.”
On the surface it would appear that this would have been the end of the discussion, but the lawyer recognized that he had been contained and shown up by Jesus, and he could not let the issue rest without posing one more question, “Who is my neighbor, whom I must love like myself?”
Jewish society in the time of Jesus was a complicated affair, with 613 separate laws for daily life for many different groups of people; Jews and Gentiles, Jewish men and Jewish women, the socially clean and unclean, and the various tribal separations as well, just to name a few. Jesus told a parable which gave a beautiful response to the legal question, which is only told in Luke’s Gospel. The parable of the Good Samaritan.
In the parable a ‘certain man’ was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, a journey of only about 12 miles, but one which requires a treacherous descent from about 2,300 feet above sea level to 1,300 feet below sea level, all in the space of this twelve-mile trek. This meant that the trail was not only rugged, but had many twists, turns, and pitfalls where a traveler could be attacked and robbed at any time. The unfortunate Jewish traveler in the story was attacked, stripped, beaten, robbed, and left for dead along the roadside by thieves skulking in the shadows.
Other travelers passed along the trail and observed the helpless and miserable traveler who had been accosted and robbed. Jesus chose his characters at this point of the story carefully. The victim could have been either a Jew or a Gentile; an important point that Jesus wanted to make so that the entire audience could relate to the story. The first traveler to encounter the victim, however, was identified as a Jewish priest, the pinnacle of Jewish society. This devout man noticed the destitute victim at the side of the road, and rather than help his unfortunate Jewish brother, he chose to cross over to the far side of the road to avoid any communication or contact. The second person to come along happened to be a Levite, who would have been a privileged member of Jewish society who worked for the Temple, and he too chose to move away from and failed to assist the fallen victim. Finally, a third person happened along. Now the logical conclusion which would have been drawn by Jesus’ Jewish audience would be that this third traveler would have been a righteous Jew as well, even if his social standing might not have been equivalent with the previous travelers. This would have made perfect sense and would have allowed the story that Jesus had spun to be a criticism of the religious leadership, which all listening would have expected. No one in the crowd would have ever dreamed that Jesus would claim the third traveler to be, of all things, a Samaritan!
Samaria was Judea’s most reviled neighbor. Samaritans were descended from the Israelites, but they had fallen into intermarriages with Gentile tribes and were not allowed to worship at the one true Temple in Jerusalem. They were considered less than dogs in many circles, and Jewish law even forbade any good Jew to say “Amen” if a Samaritan uttered any form of a prayer. Yet, it was this lowly Samaritan, this outsider, who took the time to stop and help the fallen traveler. The Samaritan dressed his wounds, put the man on his own pack animal, and took him to an inn for rest and healing. Once at the inn, the Samaritan asked the innkeeper to care for the man until he could proceed on his own, and even offered money to pay for the victim’s care, and to send more money if the need arose. The bitterly hated and reviled Samaritan had become the compassionate neighbor who had reached out with all that he had even when the cream of Jewish society had looked away and failed to show any compassion.
Too many times in our world, hatred, bigotry, jealousy, and pure anger seem to get in the way, to use and abuse the weak and the sociallydisadvantaged, from children to the elderly, from those racially, socially, and sexually discriminated and damaged; and to those whose lives are destroyed by senseless killing and suffering in war and political disruption. The solution is simple, as Jesus asked the lawyer, “Who is our neighbor?” Our neighbor can be anyone and everyone, whoever might show up either to help or to be helped by us, a neighbor is anyone who acts compassionately towards another in need. The important thing to remember is that you might have the opportunity to be a good neighbor today, but tomorrow you just might be the one in distress needing someone else to be your neighbor!
By the way, the story goes that the Jewish law scholar, when asked by Jesus who was the good neighbor, was too ashamed to mention the Samarian by name, and only replied, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Consequently, Jesus’ only advice to the lawyer was “Go, and do likewise.” God bless you.
Deacon Farrar serves in Sacred Heart Parish, Bolivar, MO