Body and Blood of Christ

The Good Samaritan

Luke 10: 25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."   And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live." But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil  and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." 

 


Drinking Well

 

The Good Samaritan

The  introduction  (10: 25-29)  is  essential  for  an  understanding  of  the  Good  Samaritan.  The  lawyer's  question  --  'What  must  I  do  to  inherit  eternal  life?' -- was  meant  to embarrass  Jesus;  he,  adroitly, put the  onus  on  the  questioner,  who  found  that  his  reply  (from  Deut  6:5  and  Lev 19:18)  won  the  approval  of  Jesus. The  lawyer  tried  again  and  asked for  a definition  of  'neighbour'. This  time he felt that the 'Master' would be hard put  to  counter  for  he  had  raised  what  was,  in  fact,  a  much disputed  matter. The  Essenes  of  Qumran,  for  instance,  would  maintain  that  all  'sons  of  darkness',  that  is, all  those  who  did   not  belong  to  the  sect,  should  be  excluded. Others, while less  radical,  would  rule  out  'sinners'.  All  would agree that, in  the  broadest  interpretation,  'neighbour'  should  be  limited  to  Jews  and  proselytes. It is expected that Jesus, too, will respect the broad  limits. It remains to be seen whether he will narrow them appreciably.

          Though  not  explicitly  stated,  it  is  certainly  implied that  the  man  who  was  mugged  on the  road  to  Jericho  was  a  Jew.   His  nationality  is  not  expressly mentioned  because  the point  of  the parable  is  that  the lawyer's  question  is  not  going  to  be  answered  in  terms  of  nationality  or  race.  Priest  and  levite  refused  to  become  involved  in  what,  one  way  or  other,  was  sure  to  be  a  messy  business.  Jesus  did  not  accuse  them  of  callousness;  he  did  not  pass  judgment  on  their  conduct.  They  were  men  who  lacked  the  courage  to  love;  dare  we  say  that they  represent the common  man?   After  priest  and  levite  it might  have  been  expected  that  the  third  traveller  --  a series  of  three  is typical  of story  --  would  turn  out  to  be  a  Jewish  layman;  the  bias  would  be  anticlerical.  The  drama  is that the third  character,  the  hero  of  the  story,  was  one  of the  despised  Samaritans.  He  has  been  designedly  chosen to  bring  out  the  unselfishness  of love. The  man  applied  first-aid to the wounded  traveller  and  carried  him  to  an  inn;  and  he  did  not  consider that  his  obligations  had  thereby  ended.   Whatever  a  cynic  might  have thought  of his  conduct  thus  far,  the  man  turns  out  to  be  very  much  the realist.  He  did  not naively presume  on  the  soft heartedness of  the  innkeeper but  paid  him,  in  advance,  to  look  after the  victim.

          At  the  close,  Jesus  got the lawyer  to  answer his  own  question  --  'The  one  who  showed  him  mercy.'  Yet, had he  really  responded to the original  question?   In  v. 29  he  had  asked,  'Who  is  my  neighbour?',  while  the  question that Jesus put  to  him  in  v. 36 is  rather:  'To  whom  am  I  neighbour?'   The  lawyer  was  concerned  with the  object  of  love  and  his  question  implied  a limitation:  my  neighbour  is  one  who  belongs  to  such  and  such  a  group. Jesus  looked  to the  subject  of  love:  which  of the  three  had  acted  as  neighbour?   The  lawyer's  question  was  not  answered because  it  was  a  mistaken  question.   One  cannot  determine  theoretically  who one's  neighbour  is  because  love  is not theory  but  practice.  One's  neighbour  is  any  person  who  needs  one's  help,  says  the parable.  
The  wounded  man  was  neighbour  to the priest  and levite just  as much as  he  was  to  the  Samaritan,  but  while  they  had  theorised  in the  manner  of the lawyer,  he  had  acted.  The  traveler  was  neighbour  to  all  three;  the  Samaritan  alone  was  neighbour  in  return.  The lawyer had,  seemingly,  learned  his  lesson. At least he had answered correctly:  'the one who showed him mercy'. But, as a Jew, 
he could not bring himself  to  say, simply:  the Samaritan.

         Though  the  recommendation  of  Jesus  -  'Go,  and  do  likewise'  --  was  addressed  to  the lawyer  it holds  a  message  and  a  warning  for  all  Christians.   We  may  not pause  to  ask  ourselves:  'Is  this person  really  my  neighbour?'   Christian  charity  knows  no  bounds.  The pity is that there are so few 'Samaritans'  among  us.


Wilfrid Harrington


 

 

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