FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2019)
Psalms 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36-37
Two weeks ago in Luke’s gospel Jesus resolutely decided to start out for Jerusalem, the place where His earthly ministry would come to an end. You will recall that along the way a Samaritan village was less than welcoming to Jesus and His disciples. So unwelcoming were they, that the disciples suggested the possibility that God might consider annihilating the Samaritans with fire. Jesus, of course, thought that was a silly idea, and He rebuked the disciples and kept moving on to Jerusalem. Not only would annihilating the Samaritans have been overkill for what appeared to be a social snub, but Jesus surely did not want to contribute to the prevailing thinking of the day which viewed Samaritans as inherently bad people. Jesus’ parable in today’s gospel not only declares that Samaritans are capable of doing good, but, more importantly, it suggests that Samaritans might even be better than so-called religious people at doing the will of God. That is why the disciples were no doubt scratching their heads in wonder after hearing Jesus tell this parable.
Note that the person who prompts what we call the Parable of the Good Samaritan was not so much hoping to learn something new, or even to grow in his spiritual life. The gospel writer Luke was clear that the reason the scholar of the Law asked his question was “to test Jesus.” Did the scholar assume that he knew more than this itinerant preacher from Nazareth? Or was the scholar just succumbing to the prevailing prejudice of all so-called religious leaders of Jesus’ day who viewed Jesus with a very suspicious eye? I guess we will never know the true reason the scholar questioned Jesus, but we know that his motives for asking the question were not pure.
Jesus’ congratulations of the scholar for answering His question accurately and insightfully failed to give the scholar any satisfaction. Indeed, because the scholar wished “to justify himself,” he asks Jesus yet another question: “And who is my neighbor?” Whatever the reason was for asking the additional question, the scholar surely could not have expected such a challenging answer.
Samaritans were, in fact, despised by the Jews, which is precisely why Jesus’ parable, which has a Samaritan as the hero, was so incredibly striking. Not only is a Samaritan the hero of our story, but the villains, who are worthy of booing, are a priest and a religious authority, people who really should have known better. While it isn’t impossible that their concern for the Law caused them to pass by the wounded man on the “opposite side” of the road (contact with a bloodied victim would make them unclean), they, nevertheless, should not be absolved from shame for such unneighborly behavior. Jesus would spend a fair amount of His teaching moments trying to persuade the religious authorities of His day that no correct interpretation of the Law would involve such a blatant disregard for the dignity of the human person.
The Samaritan in today’s gospel parable is the one who was “moved with compassion at the sight” of the wounded individual, and not only did he soothe the victim’s wounds and lovingly bandage him, he went beyond what human decency required, and took the wounded man to an inn and paid for his care until he was well. It was the Samaritan who treated the robbery victim “with mercy,” and “the scholar of the law,” even with some reluctance, was forced into admitting that the Samaritan was the person who was truly a neighbor to the robbers’ victim.
Jesus makes a Samaritan, a member of the group that did not welcome Jesus and His disciples, the example for how to love God by loving our neighbor! Imagine if you will, that Jesus would hold up our bitterest enemy as the example of love and mercy. Just how would we feel? Jesus challenges us to clearly recognize just who our neighbor is. Our neighbors are not limited to those who look like us, who agree with us, who believe the same things that we believe, who were born in the same country as we were born, or who are never critical of us or done us any harm. The world is full of people who have been wounded by poverty, beat up by the rich and powerful, abused by the influential, and ignored by the comfortable. They are the ones who are meant to be treated with the extravagant mercy shown by the Samaritan in today’s gospel. If we are unable to love them as our neighbor, then we have no right to claim that we love God. May we truly “go and do likewise,” loving all people as our neighbor, and treating them with the extravagant mercy that is of God.
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