Today’s gospel text is two-pronged. While providing a powerful lesson about mercy toward those in need, it also proclaims that non-Jews can observe the law and thus enter into eternal life.
The gospel reading tells us that the lawyer knew his scriptures very well. He was able to quote the “two great commandments” from Deuteronomy 6:5 and from Leviticus 19:18 – Love God and love your neighbour. Here Jesus affirms the validity of the law for salvation and accentuates the doing (action) of the twin commandment. The lawyer’s question stems from debates about who belongs to God’s people and therefore is an object of neighbourly love. Jesus’ counterquestion in Lk 10:36 arrest the reader’s attention and impel us to imitate the conduct of the Samaritan. The 1st reading taken from Deuteronomy 30: 10-14, is the first commandment about loving God. It is the “Shema” which every Jew knows by heart. It is the prayer that the lawyer would have recited twice every day, carrying the words on his forehead. The lawyer is probably a prayerful person, a person who knows the scriptures well and yet Jesus wants him to go DEEPER into his faith: don’t ask about who belongs to God’s people but rather ask about the conduct of God’s chosen people.
What is your conduct?
It is not only about loving God and but also about loving our neighbour. It is not about who belongs to God but about how we react to those in need. It is with interest that we find the lawyer incapable of bringing himself to say “Samaritan” but rather his reply was “the one who took pity on him”. The outcast Samaritan not only did the law, he also showed that he is a neighbour, a member of God’s people, one who will inherit eternal life. Are we sometimes like the lawyer? Thinking so highly of ourselves that we forget the marginalised, the poor, the uneducated, the outcast? … the list goes on!
The first expression of love/charity/friendship is to love beyond ourselves. The lawyer gave the right answer and Jesus affirms it by saying: “You have answered right, do this, and you will live.” The story of the Good Samaritan is about the second of Jesus’ great commandments. Leviticus 19:18 and 33-34 reinforces the meaning of the Gospel reading so clearly: “… you shall love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD… When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Why do we need to love and befriend the stranger and the alien? Because God has created all people equal, and our concern for all people shatters the fences of our own tribes.
Notice also how Jesus changes the lawyer’s question. The lawyer asked, “And who is my neighbour?” By the lawyer’s definition the neighbour would have been the priest and the Levite, members of his group, not the alien and heretical Samaritan. However, at the end of the story, Jesus changes the question by asking, “Which of these three, do you think was a neighbour?” “Neighbour” is not defined by location or group but by those who need concern and care. Do we consider ‘neighbour’ as only members of our own clan, our own community, our own friends? Are we “tribal” by instinct and by habit? Do we care only for those who are our very own? Who, then is my neighbour, asked the lawyer? And Jesus responded by giving us the parable of the Good Samaritan. My neighbour is anyone who has need of me regardless of race, language or religion or blood connections. As we go through life, we will come across many people who are in need of help. Will our closeness to Jesus broaden our heart and prevents us from falling into narrow-mindedness and selfishness.
The parable goes on: Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Here, our Lord is speaking about sins of omission. Our own worries, not wanting to get involved, not desiring complications that will arise, we have more important things to do. These give greater importance to the man in need. Therein lay our sin: passing by on the other side. How often do we forget that Jesus is the one on the other side, waiting to say to us – “she has done a beautiful thing to me” (Mk 14:6).
The secret of overcoming differences of race or culture, or even of age or character, is to realize that the object of our charity is Jesus himself. The real charity is that our own needs have to take second place to those of others. The Samaritan, in spite of the gulf between Jews and Samaritans, immediately felt sorry for the man’s misfortune: he had compassion. What we need is a readiness to see the misfortunes of others, to have compassion like the Samaritan that is pure and effective. The charity Our Lord asks of us is to be shown in deeds, in doing whatever needs to be done for those in need. God places these people along our paths. Will we walk on by or will we stop and be there for them.
The 1st reading reminds us “For this Law that I enjoin on you today is not beyond your strength or beyond your reach.” Love is always ready to do whatever the immediate situation demands. It may not be anything heroic or difficult. What is required is doing the small and simple tasks. Perhaps trying to cheer someone up or maybe a word of appreciation and thanks, or smiling, or listening with interest or just being there for the other party putting aside what we need to do and unstintingly be there for the “neighbour”. Jesus’ concluding lesson for us: GO AND DO LIKEWISE, He says, be understanding, involved and compassionate.
Go and do likewise
With love and gratitude,