Gospel – Luke 10:25-37
There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test Jesus and said,
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law?
How do you read it?”
He said in reply,
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your being,
with all your strength,
and with all your mind,
and your neighbor as yourself.”
He replied to him, “You have answered correctly;
do this and you will live.”
But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus,
“And who is my neighbor?”
“A man fell victim to robbers
as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.
They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.
A priest happened to be going down that road,
but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
Likewise a Levite came to the place,
and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him
was moved with compassion at the sight.
He approached the victim,
poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them.
Then he lifted him up on his own animal,
took him to an inn, and cared for him.
The next day he took out two silver coins
and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction,
‘Take care of him.
If you spend more than what I have given you,
I shall repay you on my way back.’
Which of these three, in your opinion,
was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?”
He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Reflection on the Gospel
Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.
The story of the good Samaritan is a response to the question: “Who is my neighbor?” Or is it?
The gospel story presents Jesus in a challenging theological discussion with a scholar of the law, who tries to trick him by asking him two questions: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and “Who is my neighbor?” We are told that at the time of Jesus there were 613 laws and precepts. Some of them were very important, like the Ten Commandments. Others functioned like a protective hedge around the commandments, meant to ensure that the major laws were observed. Only the scholars were familiar with all the laws, so the first question was intended
to show Jesus’ ignorance of the law. It did not work. Jesus threw the question back to the scholar. The scholar’s second question was meant to save face. Jesus answers neither question directly. The scholar himself answers the first question, and Jesus tells a story in response to the second, and then he turns the question upside down when he asks: “Which of these three…was neighbor.” The scholar asks: “Who is my neighbor?” Who am I supposed to love? Jesus asks: “Who is …neighbor?” Who does the loving here?
Samaritans were disdained by Jews because they were the descendants of those who hundreds of years earlier intermarried with foreigners who were forcibly settled among the northern tribes by the Assyrians. Not considered full-blooded Israelites, they were shunned and marginalized. Had the priest or Levite touched a dead body, they would have become culticly impure. Not knowing if the man was alive or dead, they chose not to take the risk, and so they passed by. The Samaritan had nothing to lose; he was already considered impure. But he had
nothing to gain either. He saw another human being in need, and so he showed him respect and love.
When asked: “Who is my neighbor?” most Jews would have answered: One of our own kind; one of our clan, or tribe, or religion – an answer that many people today might also give. By turning the question upside down, Jesus is saying more than that we should love the outsider. He is actually showing that it is the outsider, the one who is disdained and shunned who does the loving. The priest and the Levite chose cultic propriety; the Samaritan chose love of neighbor, even love of one who was probably not ‘one of his own kind.’ We might now understand better what Deuteronomy means when it says that the command is very near to us, in our mouths and in our hearts. The Samaritan showed ordinary human decency, behavior that springs from our hearts and our souls. His actions were extraordinary because of the complicated social dynamics within which he acted. He looked past the cultural
barriers, barriers that made him the outsider. We can also see why the law or instruction is praised in the psalm response. The law or instruction does refresh; it does give wisdom; it does rejoice the heart; it does enlighten the eye. It does all these things because it breaks down cultural barriers and it makes us all neighbors of each other.
Dianne Bergant, CSA
Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP Distinguished Professor Emerita of Old Testament Studies
Saint John Baptist de La Salle – Pray for us.
Live, Jesus, in our hearts – Forever.
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