In the Scripture readings for the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time (Year C), we hear Moses’ words to Israel before the people crossed over the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Moses exhorts the people to obey God’s commandments, saying: “return to the LORD, your God, with all your heart and all your soul.” Moses continues to explain that this is not a difficult thing to understand; rather it is something very close to their hearts. The Promised Land of Canaan was an earthly territory where the People of God would rest secure if they obeyed the commandments of God and were faithful to the covenant. Those who were disobedient would have no rest and would be exiled form the Promised Land. All of this prefigures what Jesus came to do in saving us from our sins and offering us eternal life in the heavenly Promised Land.
The lawyer asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Both Jesus and the lawyer agree that Moses’ Law explains: “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 neighbour as yourself.” The lawyer then pushes for further explanation: “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan, which would have brought great shock to his Jewish audience. The scandal of this parable lies in the Jewish disdain for Samaritans. How could someone they deemed to be unclean and a foreigner keep the Law in showing such love, when the priest and the Levite simply passed by the needy man? We are to love for our neighbours, and in so doing we show that we are neighbour to others. This is the ironic twist in Jesus’ parable: the Samaritan is the lawyer’s neighbour and the lawyer must love him as such.
At the beginning of the parable the dying man is the neighbour, but at the end the neighbour is the Samaritan. The lawyer’s opening question, “who is my neighbour?” is answered with “the dying man.” But Jesus structures the parable in such a way that he is able to get the lawyer to see that the Samaritan himself is also the neighbour. Jesus asks, “Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbour to the man?” The lawyer answered, “The one who showed mercy on him.” Notice that the lawyer is not even able to say the word “Samaritan” because it is so repugnant to him. Jesus turns the situation on its head in order to demonstrate that we should not judge by externalities, or legalistic requirements, but see everyone as our neighbour even if they are not within the Church or our families.
On a deeper spiritual level this parable relates to Christ. Jesus is the Good Samaritan who heals Adam, wounded by sin and the deceit of Satan. Just as the Good Samaritan leaves the inn and returns later, so too Jesus leaves after his Resurrection and returns at his second Coming. The inn and inn keeper, then, would be the Church, who tends our wounds and heals us.
On another level we can read the Good Samaritan as the Church, whose compassion for the sick leads to action and healing. This parable, therefore, applies to everyone’s life. It clarifies for us who our neighbour is, and that love for God cannot be separated from love for neighbour.
Most importantly, this parable is in response to the question on how to inherit eternal life: by loving Christ, the Good Samaritan, who heals the sons and daughters of Adam—all of us! We must also love the Church who is the Good Samaritan giving aid to those in need. Finally, as members of the Church we love those who Christ loves: the poor, the marginalised, and the sinner. Love of God and love of neighbour are essential for entry into eternal life.
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