Luke 10:25-37 (15th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
The Parable of the Good Samaritan has often been interpreted as one which tells the listener that one’s neighbor is anyone in need of help. While that is true, it is only a small part of the meaning and message of the story. The main point of the Parable is that the Samaritan, the outcast, the one marginalized, is Good. The Parable seeks to break the stereotypes that we carry in our minds and hearts about those whom we do not understand.
This point is indicated in a variety of ways. First, one listening to the Parable might have expected the third person in the story to be an Israelite or a Jew after hearing that the Priest and Levite walked by on the other side. However, the listeners’ expectations are shattered when the third person is not a Jew but a Samaritan, a person whom the Jews had strong prejudices against. If the third person were a lay Jew, then the Parable could be interpreted as a dig against the Priestly class represented by the Priest and Levite. However, this is not the case. The one who reached out to help was one who would not normally have been expected to do so because of the animosity that existed between Jews and Samaritans. He, too, ought to have walked by on the other side. Yet, he does not do so. He reaches out to help. A stereotype is broken. A pre-conceived notion is shattered. A label has to be changed.
While the actions, or more correctly non-actions, of the Priest and Levite are narrated in few words, Jesus uses seemingly more words than necessary to describe the loving action of the Samaritan. These include his bandaging the wounds of the injured man, pouring oil and wine to cleanse the wound and keep it soft, putting the man on his own animal and even going beyond the call of compassion by leaving money with the innkeeper for the further care of the man. The reason for these many words and this detailed description is probably because, if Jesus had simply stated that the Samaritan helped the man, the listeners would have scoffed and poured scorn on him. They would not have believed that such a thing was possible. The story might have fallen flat on its face. Thus, Jesus had to describe in great detail the actions of the Samaritan to make the story believable.
Jesus turns the lawyer’s question on its head when he asks his own question at the end of the Parable. While the lawyer’s question was “Who is my neighbor?” and the answer to this question would have been, “Anyone in need,” Jesus’ question, “Who was neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?” demands that the Lawyer answers “The Samaritan.” However, so deep rooted is the prejudice of the Jewish Lawyer that he cannot even utter the word “Samaritan” and answers instead, “The one who showed mercy” which is, in other words, the Samaritan. It is clear that Jesus wanted the lawyer, who was a Jew, to go beyond the narrow definition of neighbour, to go beyond his prejudice, his bias, and his stereotyping.
When Israel was split into two kingdoms after the death of Solomon in around 922 BCE, the North (named Israel which had its capital at Samaria) and he South (named Judah which had its capital at Jerusalem), became the target for its neighbors, because its strength was divided. In 722 BCE, the Assyrians captured Israel and Samaria and took as their wives and concubines Israeli women. The children by that union were known as Samaritans and, till the time of Jesus, were regarded as inferior and as outcasts by their former Jewish brothers and sisters. Thus, Jesus is asking the Jewish Lawyer if he can get rid of his negative way of looking at the Samaritans, and regard him also as neighbor. The Samaritan is indeed, neighbor, because he behaved as a neighbour.
The parable is thus a challenge to each one of us to review the stereotypes that we have of others. Often, a stereotype is created because of insufficient or incomplete information about a situation or about the other. It is also created because many of us feel comfortable when we are able to categorize people and place them in neat pigeon holes that we have created in our minds and hearts. Albert Einstein said “It is easier to disintegrate an atom than a prejudice”.
In order to correct this way of looking, Moses’ address to the people in the first reading of today invites them to a following of the Lord and his commands and decrees. This following is not difficult. All it requires is openness and sincerity. It requires one to see, not only with the eyes but also, with the heart. If we see with the eyes of the heart, then we will be able to see rightly.
This is also what Paul means when he speaks in the second reading of today of Jesus who is the image of the invisible God. We, as Christians, need only to look at him and know how we are to speak and how we are to act. We have only to look at him to know that there is a neighbor in every human being.