15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jesus, in today’s Gospel, sums up his instruction in the twofold law of love: love of God in himself, and love of God in neighbor.
A lawyer wants to know how to inherit eternal life. Jesus refers him to the law of love: love God and love neighbor. The answer seems self-evident for an expert in the law; the lawyer, to justify himself, raises the disputed question about the identity of the neighbor: And who is my neighbor? Jesus does not offer the standard response: fellow Jew, family member, etc. He tells a story -The Good Samaritan- and then enjoins the lawyer to tell his story in a similar fashion.
To explain the meaning of “neighbor”, the parable describes a vicious robbery and the reaction of three people towads the victim. First comes the priest, who sees the victim and passes on. It would be too much trouble to get involved. If he touched the man, he would be ritually unclean for seven days and thus deprived himself of the Temple service and salary. Then came the Levite, who perhaps feared this was a decoy and preferred his own safety to helping the victim. Lastly, it was a Samaritan who took charge of him, precisely a man rejected on religious grounds by the Jews listening to this story.
The lawyer had asked Jesus to define a neighbor, as if people by reason of certain color, race, creed or political persuasion could not be a neighbor. Jesus shifted the argument to neighborliness. It doesn’t matter who is my neighbor, but what is being a neighbor. It is not a question of picking a worthy person upon whom to shower my attention and love, but rather being a person who believes that all other human beings are worthy of my care and affection. Ultimately, the true neighbor was the one who showed mercy. The Samaritan proved to be a neighbor.
Love requires a response on our part to the needs of anyone to whom we can render service. The idea becomes a concrete and visible reality. Love can be as distasteful and expensive as picking up a beaten man and nursing him back to health! A favorite way to avoid dealing with love is to intellectualize it. Such is the tactic used by the lawyer in today’s story. We cannot separate our love for God whom we cannot see and our love for the neighbor whom we can see; Jesus never separated them. Unless our love for God and for neighbor go hand in hand, neither one will be genuine.
The parable of the Good Samaritan never really happened. But since it is a parable, it may have happened a million times. We can pull it out of its Middle East setting and place it in modern-day America, and make it happen again. We may not like the story, for it tells how people (like you and me) can ignore others, even those in dire need. It goes to say that some “big people” are not so big, and that others, thought to be “of low standind” may be fantastic individuals.
There are countless victims along the road. They may suffer from ignorance, disease, violence, blindness, depression, old age, poverty, floods, fires, etc. Many need only a little help, some good advice, a genuine smile or just a minute or two of our time to hear their story. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho and back is a perfect example of any road, any place, any time. Whenever you and I pass along the way, let’s try to be a good samaritan, a good neighbor. Let us simply try to be a good Christian.