Chapter 14: The Parable of the Good Samaritan
The parable of the Good Samaritan speaks about the subject of our relationship to enemies and about the theme of mercy. The elements that are used to dress the wounds are considered as a means of healing, either as they were used in ancient medicine, or as symbols of healing of the soul and the body in the religious life of Christians.
Who is your enemy? How do you relate to him? What is your experience in terms of the physical and spiritual works of mercy? Maybe it’s relatively easy to help our friends and relatives when they are in distress. In the same way, we can deal also with those whom we do not know. But: can we perform an act of selfless charity towards a person who has hurt us or caused us harm? And how can it be possible that the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has both spiritual and physical effects? We will try to answer all these questions in our meeting today.
2- Reading and understanding the Gospel: Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
25There was a lawyer who, to disconcert him, stood up and said to him, “Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the Law? What do you read there?” 27He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.’” 28 “You have answered right,” said Jesus, “do this and life is yours.”
29But the man was anxious to justify himself and said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was once on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of brigands; they took all he had, beat him and then made off, leaving him half dead. 31Now a priest happened to be traveling down the same road, but when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32In the same way a Levite who came to the place saw him, and passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan traveller who came upon him was moved with compassion when he saw him. 34He went up and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He then lifted him on to his own mount, carried him to the inn and looked after him. 35Next day, he took out two denarii and handed them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and on my way back I will make good any extra expense you have.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the brigands’ hands?” 37 “The one who took pity on him,” he replied. Jesus said to him, “Go, and do the same yourself.”
2. 1- Explanation
The Parable of the Good Samaritan was told as Jesus was on the way up to Jerusalem, according to the Gospel of Luke, and as part of a conversation with a Jewish lawyer on love of God and neighbour. The Parable is divided into two parts: The first part (Luke 10: 25-28) speaks of eternal life and the second part (Luke 10:29-37) narrates the Parable and presents the moral conclusion. Each part follows the same plan:
|General question from the lawyer v.25
Jesus answers with a question v.26
Response from the lawyer v.27
Confirmation of response from Jesus v.28
|General question from the lawyer v.29
Jesus answers with a parable and a question v.30-6
Response from the lawyer v.37a
Confirmation of response from Jesus v.37b
The first question to Jesus is crucial: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v.25) The question indicates a serious concern about salvation; we all hope to have eternal life. Jesus’ answer (v.26) shows that the continuity of acceptance of the Law (OT) in the New Testament, the Ten Commandments are still valid. It is quite probable that the person of today does not appreciate following orders; in fact, he may distance himself from any kind of imperative and external laws. At the same time, he may be influenced by the humanities and social sciences, which focus on the self and on inner desires, and, on the basis of the principle of freedom, focus on the unlimited development of the person. In contrast, the linking of the Ten Commandments to a theological context allows for balanced moral thinking for today’s world, because one discovers values for the good of humanity throughout the centuries. These values are: awareness of the presence of God and His actions in the world; the appreciation of the sacred dimension of time and the alternating of work and rest; insisting on the duration of the bond between a man and his wife and on a life in solidarity between members of the one family; respecting the right to life and its dignity; respect for persons and their property etc. All these lead Jesus to sum up the Commandments in two (Mark 12:29-31): “Love the Lord your God” as the first commandment, and “love your neighbour as yourself” as the second, similar to the first, as if they are two faces of the same coin. Love your God (Deut. 6: 5) and love your neighbour (Lev 19:18) summarize the Law. Genuine faith has to become reality in our relationships in life.
“And who is my neighbour?” v.29). Every Jew and every foreigner living among Jews is his neighbour (Lev 19:34), or also a God-fearing individual or proselyte from paganism; but no universalism applies; it does not include enemies (Samaritans). The aim of the parable is an invitation to love one’s enemies, who represent the last of one’s “neighbours”. Hostility between Jews and Samaritans dated back to the death of King Solomon in 935 BC, when the Kingdom was split between Israel in the North, whose capital was Samaria, presided over by the general of the army, and Judea in the South, whose capital was Jerusalem, ruled by the son of Solomon. The second split occurred in 721 BC, when the Assyrians took the Samaritans into exile (the little exile), and when pagan strangers came to live there in their place, more and more mingled with the [remaining] local population, and their pagan gods became mixed up with the true God, hence they were called by the Jews “polytheist Samaritans”. The third split occurred in the fourth century BC when the Samaritans, returned from exile, built a temple on Mount Gerizim as a place of pilgrimage in rivalry with the Temple of the Mount in Jerusalem. The last schism occurred in 128 BC, when the Jewish king Hyrkanos I burned the temple of Samaria, which further fuelled hatred.
The parable describes a concrete reality: Jerusalem is, in fact, at an altitude of 750 m, the road down to Jericho is 27 km, and Jericho is at 250 m above sea level. This path between Jerusalem and Jericho was very dangerous for it passed by a ditch frequented by thieves. At the time, the story told by Jesus was well known. But what is striking is Jesus’ choice of personalities: the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan. Many priests resided in Jericho (those who administered the sacrifices), as well as Levites (overseers of the Temple), who would travel to Jerusalem once a year when the time of their service in the Temple was due. Their behaviour seems similar to ours in many such circumstances: fear, lack of time, lack of interest… But as they are religious, consecrated people, one must add another reason, that of ritual purity. The wounded man, in fact, was dying; it was forbidden for clerics to touch the dead (Lev 21:1-4), lest they became impure, which would prevent them from practising their rituals without prior purification. Their problem was to prioritise the laws of ritual purity before the important law of mercy, as the prophet Hosea said, “what I want is mercy and not sacrifice” (Hos 6:6). The Lord Jesus repeated this (Mt 9: 13) and said as well: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
As for the Samaritan, who was considered an enemy by the Jews, the text tells us: “He was moved with compassion”, literally, “his guts moved with pity” (Mt 10:33) when he saw the victim. This mercy born from the very heart of his body is not a mere feeling of compassion, but a powerful force that triggers action and commitment. This is why he approached the wounded man, bandaged his wounds, poured oil and wine on them, transported him to the inn, took care of him, and spent his own money for his care. Such behaviour indicates a great deal of compassion and also a certain degree of familiarity with medicine. The Evangelist Luke, who was a doctor by profession, mentions many medical words here and at the same time abbreviates the description (v. 33). This could be an allusion to the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick desired by Jesus, who sent his disciples to do the same (Mark 6:13). But the Fathers of the Church saw in the Good Samaritan, Jesus himself, who is bending over humanity to bandage our wounds, opened and bleeding because of sin. And he has entrusted this task to the Church (the “hotel industry”) to continue its saving action (well into the Middle Ages, hotels or hostels were often run by the Church, by monks and nuns, and existed for the rest and care of weary, sick or injured travellers).
2. 2- Summary and Practice
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is a call from God for us to act the same (Luke 10:37). The injured person is not only the one who has been attacked by thieves; there are indeed psychological and spiritual wounds more painful and more dangerous than those which we see widespread in all societies and ages; if there is in our hearts enough mercy, we will be attentive to our neighbour and feel his pain. That is why the Church recommends that we actively live seven “corporal” works of mercy: to feed the hungry, to give water to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to visit the sick, to visit the imprisoned, or ransom the captive, to bury the dead; and seven “spiritual” works of mercy: to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to admonish the sinners, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive offences willingly, to comfort the afflicted, to pray for the living and the dead. Through these, we will make real and present the mercy of the Good Samaritan to our neighbour, whom Divine Providence has placed on our way.
Apostolic work is open to neighbour and enemy alike. Says St Paul: “there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3: 28). In principle, the parable should come up with answering the question “who is my neighbour?”, but the text ends without answering the question directly. Indeed, Jesus turned the question into another: “Of whom am I the neighbour?” Jesus radically changed the Jewish way of thinking: I myself am no longer the centre of the world that can define people in relation to me, but the centre has become the other, especially the one in need; and I am defined in relation to him. Priority is given to the other.
3- Theological and Spiritual Teaching: The Sacrament of Anointing the Sick
The Church celebrates many religious services. But she has further particularly chosen seven; she has called them “sacraments”, and for a long time they have been referred to as the “Seven Sacraments of the Church”. Two of them are called the Sacraments of Healing: The Sacrament of Penance heals us from the sin that kills, and invigorates our relationship with God; the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick confers on the sick person everything he needs to heal his body and his soul and to receive forgiveness for sins.
Since the time of the Apostles, the custom has been kept of laying hands on the sick and praying for them, as Christ did. The Church has preserved this ritual and given it paramount importance, calling it a sacrament, with conviction that in what she does, it is Christ himself who is acting; it is he who lays his hand when the priest does it, it is he himself who anoints the sick person, and it is he who grants forgiveness. In this ritual, the Church believes that the sick person enters into communion with the event of the death and the resurrection of Christ, thanks to this sacrament, as indeed with all the other sacraments; thus, the strength of Christ who conquered death becomes present in him. It is therefore a great grace received by the sick person when he receives the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.
At what point is this sacrament conferred, and for what circumstances of sickness? Whenever the illness becomes worse, he may ask for the sacrament; for example, when he has a life-threatening illness, or paralysis preventing him from continuing to live normally, or even before undergoing a dangerous operation. In these difficult times, the Church comes, in the person of the priest and some believers – it is better that the priest be accompanied during his visit – to pray with the sick, in anointing him with the holy oil, and conferring on him the forgiveness of sins.
In his sickness, the person realizes that his new state of ill-health has distanced him from the Church; that’s why she comes to him, at home or in hospital, to confirm to him that the bond of love in Christ is stronger than all evil, and that his illness will not keep him away from the ecclesial Body to which he belongs. On the contrary, the invalid remains, in his illness, a living member of the Church, possessing all the graces capable of enriching her. Whatever the sick person’s condition, he can collaborate in the action of God for the salvation of the world. The Church prays with him and anoints him, to proclaim the presence of Christ by his side in his suffering.
4- Reading and Meditation: Communication and Encounter
On the occasion of the 48th World Day of Social Communications, the Seventh Sunday of Easter, June 1, 2014, Pope Francis published a message on the theme: “Communication in the service of an authentic culture of encounter”, dated 24 January 2014, the festival of St Francis de Sales, patron of the Catholic press. In this message, His Holiness speaks of the Good Samaritan.
The Pope begins his message by stating that within humanity, divisions persist, sometimes very marked. At the global level, there is a scandalous gap between the luxury of the richest and the misery of the poorest. It is often enough to go to the streets of a city to see the contrast between the people living on the sidewalks and the bright lights of the shops. His Holiness says that we are so used to it that it does not challenge us more. The world suffers from many forms of exclusion, marginalisation and poverty, as well as conflicts where are mingled economic, political, ideological and, unfortunately, even religious, causes.
His Holiness points out that in this world, the media can contribute to making us feel closer to each other; to make us perceive a renewed sense of the unity of the human family, which urges us towards solidarity and a serious commitment to a more dignified life. Good communication helps us to grow closer and to know each other better, to be more united. The walls that divide us can only be overcome if we are ready to listen to each other and learn from each other. We need to resolve our differences through dialogue that allows us to grow in understanding and respect.
Thus, the Pope poses the question: “How can communication to be at the service of an authentic culture of encounter”? The answer may be found in the example of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10: 25-37). Indeed, the latter not only draws close to him, but he has been able to “make a good communication” by taking care of this man he sees lying half dead on the side of the road. “By means of the Internet, the Christian message can reach ‘to the end of the earth’ (Acts 1:8)” to meet with the wounded, the sick, and those who seek genuine and lasting salvation. The revolution in the means of communication and information is a great and exciting challenge, which requires energy and imagination to pass on the beauty of God to others.16