Reading – Luke 10:25-37
There is a delightful story about an old man standing on a crowded bus. The young man standing next to him asked, “What time is it?” The old man refused to reply. The young man moved on. The old man’s friend, sensing something was wrong, asked, “Why were you so discourteous to the young man asking for the time?” The old man answered, “If I have given him the time of day, next he would want to know where I am going. Then we might talk about our interests. If we did that, he might invite himself to my house for dinner. If he did, he would meet my lovely daughter. If he met her, they would both fall in love. I don’t want my daughter marrying someone who can’t afford a watch.”
A Scribe asked Jesus a very basic religious question: “What should I do to inherit eternal life?” In answer to the question, Jesus directed the Scribe’s attention to the Sacred Scriptures. The scriptural answer is “love God and express it by loving your neighbour.” However, to the scribe the word “neighbour” meant another Scribe or Pharisee – never a Samaritan or a Gentile. Hence, the Scribe insisted on further clarification of the word “neighbour.” So Jesus told him the parable of the Good Samaritan. The parable clearly indicated that a “neighbour” is anyone who needs help and anyone who gives that help. Thus, the correct approach is not to ask the question “Who is my neighbour?” but rather to ask, “Am I a good neighbour to others?”
September 28, 1994, I was walking towards the city of Bangalore, on my way to meet a friend of mine. It was in the evening and there was a slight drizzle. Suddenly I saw a beggar sitting on the roadside and stretching out his hand for alms with his mouth wide opened. I thought he was doing that just to impress the passers-by, I continued on my way without even giving him a paisa. But as I was walking down the road, somehow I could not get rid of that haunting image I had just seen. After about an hour I retraced my steps just to find the old man in the same position as I had seen him earlier. He was frozen in death. Hundreds of people, like me, had passed by without doing anything.
I remember having given a Sunday homily on the Good Samaritan. When the mass was over, a few people came to tell me how they had been touched by what I said that morning. Ten minutes later, when I passed near the church gate to return to my house, I found a boy lying by the side of that gate who had fallen into a trance of epilepsy. The whole congregation that had just heard a “touching homily” on the good Samaritan had left the church and “passed by on the other side” without even lifting a finger to help that boy.
In the Catechism class, the teacher asked the students, why did the Priest and the Levite not stop when they saw the wounded man and why did the Samaritan stop?
Ans: Because the Priests and the Levite were concerned about themselves. They asked themselves: ‘What will happen to us if we stop?’ Whereas the first question that came to the Samaritan’s mind was: ‘What will happen to the wounded man if I don’t stop?’
People today are very cautious about getting involved. Getting involved is a messy business. It upsets your life. You never know the amount of trouble you are letting yourself in for if you decide to answer a cry for help. It is much safer, and far easier, to close your heart and go quietly by on the other side of the road.
‘The most widespread form of betrayal was not to do anything bad directly, but just not to notice the doomed person next to me. You keep silent. You act as if you had seen nothing. (I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do… (the sin of omission)
The strong point in Christ story is that it involved a Samaritan helping a Jew. It is most unlikely person who emerges as the hero. The man who helped was not even a religious man. And he too could have conjured up several good reasons for not getting involved. Why hadn’t the priest and the Levite helped? After all, it was their job, so to speak? But he asked the right question, What will happen to the wounded man if I do not stop and help.
Once a great man called Oberlin was journeying across a pass in the Alps in wintertime. He was caught in a blizzard and lost his way completely. He would have certainly died unless another traveller had come upon him and guided and helped him. When they got to safety Oberlin visited to reward this man, but he would take nothing. “Well,” said Oberlin, “if you will take no reward, at ;least tell me your name and I’ll remember you always in my prayers.” But the traveller would not even tell Oberlin his name. Oberlin pressed him. The traveller said, “I’ll tell you my name on one condition. I’ll tell you it if you tell me the name of the Good Samaritan.” Oberlin said, “I can’t. No one knows his name.” “Well,” said the traveller, ‘You don’t need to know mine.” He did not want thanks or praise or fame’ all he wanted to do was to help.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus presents three philosophies of life concerning our relationship with our neighbour:
The philosophy of the thieves who robbed the Samaritan: “What is yours is mine; I will take it by force.” This has been the philosophy of Marxism and other revolutionary movements, as it is of modern terrorist groups. In accepting this philosophy of life, the thieves, like their modern counterparts, terrorized others and exploited them, ignoring human rights and having selfish gain as their chief motive. In Jesus’ day, the steep, winding, country road from Jerusalem to Jericho was the safe haven of such bandit groups. No wonder, the Jewish traveller was robbed, stripped, beaten and left for dead on the Jericho road. Some Bible scholars estimate there were at least 12,000 “thieves” in that Judean wilderness surrounding Jerusalem. These thugs roamed the countryside like packs of wild dogs attacking innocent victims.
The philosophy of life of the Jewish priest and the Levite: “What is mine is mine; I won’t part with it.” The priests were powerful upper-class authorities governing the Temple cult. The Levites were the priests’ associates, who provided music, incense, sacred bread, Temple curtains and adornments. In the parable, the representatives of these classes did not pay any attention to the wounded man because of their utter selfishness. Misplaced zeal for their religious duty gave them a couple of lame excuses: a) ”If the man is dead and we touch him we will be unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:11) and disqualified for temple service.” Thus they saw the wounded man on the road, not as a person needing help, but a possible source of ritual impurity. b) “This may be a trap set for us, by bandits.” This excuse has some validity, as bandits did use a “wounded” member as a bait to trap other people.
The philosophy of the Samaritan: “What is mine is yours as well. I shall share it with you.” The Samaritan was generous enough to see the wounded Jew as a neighbour. He ignored the long history of enmity between his people and the Jews. The Good Samaritan was taking a real risk, since the robbers who had assaulted the traveller might still be nearby. Nevertheless, he gave first aid to the wounded Jew, took him to a nearby inn and made arrangements for his food and accommodation by giving the innkeeper two denarii. Two denarii was a lot of money—enough, in fact, to pay for more than three weeks’ board and lodging. The Samaritan also assured the innkeeper of further payment for any additional medical requirements of the wounded man.
LESSONS FOR LIFE
1. We must remember that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho passes right through our home, parish and workplace. The Jericho Road is any place where people are being robbed of their dignity, their material goods or their value as human beings. It is any place where there is suffering and oppression. As a matter of fact, the Jericho Road may be our own home, the place where we are taking care of our mother or father, husband or wife, or even our own children. We may find our spouse, children or parents lying “wounded” by bitter words or scathing criticism or by other more blatant forms of verbal, emotional or physical abuse. Hence Jesus invites us to have hearts of love. What God wants more than anything is for us to show our love to others, in our own home, in the workplace, and in the neighbourhood, as the Good Samaritan did. Jesus is inviting us to have hearts of mercy for those who are being hurt or mistreated on any of the “Jericho Roads” of life.
2. Are we good neighbours? The lawyer’s question—“Who is my neighbour?”—reveals that he was really self-centred. The parable makes us realize that every human person is our neighbour. How have we been good neighbours this week? To whom did we behave in a neighbourly way? The parable is a condemnation of our non-involvement as well as an invitation for us to be merciful and kind to those in need, including those in our family, neighbourhood and parish. We are invited to be people of generosity, kindness, and mercy toward all who are suffering. A sincere smile, a cheery greeting, an encouraging word of appreciation, a heartfelt “thank you” can work wonders for a suffering soul. Within every society, there is fear of those who are different, who have different religions, different colours of skin, who dress differently, or speak different languages. The invitation of the parable is to make them neighbours. Why? Because “one’s neighbour is the living image of God the Father, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, and placed under the permanent action of the Holy Spirit. One’s neighbour must therefore be loved, even if he or she is an enemy, with the same love with which the Lord loves him or her.” (Pope John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 1987).
3. Let the ‘Good Samaritans’ touch our lives. Do you recall the consternation and shock in so many areas years ago when PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands for the whole world to see? People from both Arafat’s and Rabin’s cultures were shocked by it and condemned that handshake! Let us be willing to be touched by persons we have once despised. For some of us, it may be persons of another colour or race; for others, it may mean persons of a different political persuasion. For others it may be a former enemy who hurt us, abused us or offended us. Let us pray that the Spirit of the living God may melt us, mould us, use us so that there will no longer be even one person who is untouchable or outside the boundaries of compassion.
4. An invitation to be loving and merciful to our enemies. “Enemies” means people we hate, as well as those who hate us. The Jews and the Samaritans during the time of Jesus hated each other. When Jesus told the story of a Samaritan helping a Jew everyone was probably shocked. A Samaritan outcast helping a Jew? Impossible! “Good Samaritan?” would have sounded like a bad joke—a contradiction in terms. The parable was an invitation for Jews to love Samaritans and Samaritans to love Jews. It is an invitation for people of all times to love their enemies–to love those they have previously hated.
Dr. (Fr.) John Parankimalil, SDB
Homily preached Vincentian Prayer House
on Jan. 5, 2013