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.