Today’s Gospel from Luke is a familiar story – that of the Good Samaritan. I was well into my adult years before I learned that Samaritans were not upheld with respect by the people of first century Palestine. That’s why every time you hear about a Samaritan or a visit through Samaria in a Gospel, pay attention. That is a big part of what you are being taught by Christ.
It matters that it is not the priest or the Levite who helped the wounded man. The men who are those upholding the “law” keep on going because touching someone would likely have violated the law. There was ritual cleanliness and certain guidelines to follow as with any legal situation, church law or civil law. The Samaritan however, stops to help when he sees another human – a neighbor – in dire need.
Let’s take a quick look at that Gospel again… here is what Jesus says when he addresses the young man who seeks to inherit eternal life:
“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?”
“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.”
Go and do likewise!? What do we think this means? Who is our neighbor? How should we treat that neighbor? It seems pretty clear that if we are truly people who believe in respect for all life and in the dignity of all human life, then it is obvious. The question becomes – not who is our neighbor, but who is not our neighbor? Who?
Humanity was stripped away from the poor man beaten by the side of the road in the Gospel. You know, we never learn anything about that man, but we are all inclined to perceive him as a good guy. Maybe he was not any such thing! Perhaps he was a Samaritan himself, or a leper. He could have easily been a robber himself, perhaps he tried to rob someone else and was overpowered. The point is – we do not know a thing about him other than that he was injured and alone on the side of the road. And someone from outside the circle of respectability was the only one who stopped to help a fellow human being, and then helped him in the extreme. It is noteworthy that he was ignored by two religious people who passed him by, and that it was a lowly Samaritan who came to his aid.
We certainly know that Jesus used this specific and very blunt story to illustrate a point. What are we to make of this? And how do we do more than ruminate on a story, how do we animate the Gospel in real life? In our own lives?
Today when we face the world, hold onto thoughts of who we come to know as a neighbor. We are called by Christ to treat that person accordingly, no matter what.