FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2022)
Psalms 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36-37
What a nice story! That is what many are tempted to say when they hear the parable of the Good Samaritan proclaimed at Sunday Mass. And it is a nice story, but it is also more prickly and challenging than we sometimes give it credit for. It is not just a story reminding us of who our ‘neighbor’ is, it is a story of who God is, and how God has treated us as His sons and daughters.
The first reading from Deuteronomy can easily lead us to believe that the testy “scholar of the law” already knew the answer to his questions, for God’s most fundamental commandment to love should not have been unfamiliar for a real “scholar of the law,” and definitely nothing “mysterious” or “remote.” He could have followed the inclinations of his heart and refrained from bothering Jesus, but his desire to “justify himself” was more important. He no doubt wanted what so many others have wanted, a narrow and circumscribed version of the “law” which justified a more narrow scope of God’s much broader interpretation of the law.
The prejudice of the Jewish people is well documented in the New Testament, and we see Jesus encounter that prejudice in His less than comfortable encounters with the Scribes and Pharisees. The “scholar of the law,” who gets our gospel started, desires to know “who is my neighbor?” The scene set by Jesus would not be unfamiliar to His listeners, for the road “from Jerusalem to Jericho” was said to be plagued by robbers and bandits. Sadly, the representatives of the organized religion of Jesus’ day, a “priest” and a “Levite,” do nothing for the beaten man. Their fears of religious contamination, or the legitimate fear that it could be merely a ‘set up’ to rob them, kept them from crossing the road and providing any assistance to the person who surely appeared to be victimized.
Jesus’ choice of a savior to help the victim is no accident, for the Jews looked down on the Samaritans, and they viewed them as outside the scope of God’s love. Contact with a Samaritan would make a person ritually unclean, and they would be the least expected to show the kind of compassion displayed in our gospel parable. And the compassion was overwhelming – after pouring oil and wine over his wounds he bandaged them, raised him up and placed him on “his own animal,” and took him to an inn where he could be cared for, paying in advance for any possible future expenses. Who would do this much?
There is a real possibility that the victim was Jewish, and I am sure he, too, was healed of his prejudice, for his primary concern was not to die on that road, and the one who showed him mercy was welcomed, regardless of what the faith of that person was. If the “scholar of the law” possessed any secret prejudices, one would like to believe that those, too, were healed by his answer to Jesus.
So to repeat the question, who would do this much? God would do this much, and has done this much by coming into our world to rescue us from sin. All of us are victims, some more than others. We are victimized by those with no compassion; we are victimized by those who look the other way and don’t recognize our needs. We are victimized when pure evil rises to the surface, as it has done in the most recent mass shootings; we are victimized when prejudice blinds us to the innate beauty of all God’s children. We are all victims in some way, wounded and afraid, and the “very image of the invisible God” (Colossians) has come into our world to soothe our hurts, to bandage our wounds, to lift us up and carry us to a place that is full of the kind of compassion, and peace, and good will that only God can give. Indeed, God’s generosity and mercy is more than we can possibly imagine. God has paid the price of our salvation, once and for all, on the cross.
We would all like to be the unexpectedly generous Samaritan in today’s parable, but in reality we are more like the victim on the road. May we never fail to recognize our own ‘woundedness,’ for in that recognition lies the burning desire to be healed by Jesus, who “made peace by the blood of His cross.”