(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
The Gospel for this Sunday contains one of Jesus' most famous parables. Knowing it so well sometimes makes it difficult to allow it speak to us. So we ask the Holy Spirit to open our hearts, to show us what we need to know today.
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
We wonder how the lawyer's question is a test. Perhaps he wants to see how well Jesus knows the scriptures. Jesus simply answers him with another question. Does this sound familiar? So many teachers answer our questions with new questions. They know that the understanding is inside of us, and if we do a little digging, we uncover it.
The lawyer answers with words from scripture that are recited daily by Jewish people everywhere. "You shall love the Lord your God..." The lawyer cleverly adds another piece of scripture, putting them side-by-side: "...and your neighbour as yourself." Jesus acknowledges that this is not just clever, it is right. They have to go side-by-side. Both.
But the lawyer remembers that he wants to do the testing.
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’
Here is a good question. How would we answer this? It would be easy to say, "Everyone! Everyone is my neighbour!" and perhaps in the fullness of time—at Parousia—we may say that and it will be true. But "everyone" is not a very specific answer. It is not an answer that shows us how to love. It is not the answer that Jesus gives.
Instead, Jesus tells a parable. He begins:
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho...
Oh, ho, think all the people listening. We are in for some trouble! Everyone knows about the dangerous road between Jerusalem and Jericho. No one is surprised by what happens next.
and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead
What do we notice about this person? We notice that we are not told the reason why he travels down that dangerous road. Is he foolish? Desperate? Ignorant? We do not know. It is not important.
What is important about him? What can we say about him? What do we know?
He is a person in trouble. He cannot help himself. It seems that he cannot even ask for help. We must keep that in mind.
Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
What do we know about these people? Both are people with important roles within the community. They would be well-respected. They would know the same scripture that Jesus and the lawyer know: Love God...love your neighbour. These people do not help. We are not told their reasons. We cannot see into their hearts. We can, however, see their actions. Their actions do not help the man in trouble.
We wonder what the people listening to the parable think about this. The respectable people do not help. The listening crowd gets interested. The first person does not help. The second person does not help. Everyone knows the third person is going to help and there is going to be a twist. Who will Jesus choose for the third person? Who will be the surprise? A tax collector? No one would expect a tax collector to help. A woman? Women are not the heroes of stories. A child? Yeah, that's who it will be. A child. Someone small. That's exactly the sort of person Jesus would choose.
But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.
A Samaritan?? How many people in the crowd stir uncomfortably at this twist? The crowd does not associate with Samaritans. Samaritans do not worship God the right way. They are different. Samaritans are certainly not the heroes of their stories.
He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”
Again, we cannot see into this person's heart. We can, however, see his actions. His actions help the person in trouble.
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
The Samaritan—the unexpected hero—shows us how to be a neighbour. Except that he is not the unexpected hero for us. We call him the Good Samaritan. We already knew he was going to help. What does this parable challenge us to see, then?
If Jesus were to tell us this parable today, who would he choose to be that third person? Who would be the person we would least expect to help? Who is the person we cheer against, who gives us a secret thrill when they do something wrong, who we love to hate?
Who is the person with good actions—actions that help those who cannot help themselves? Who is the person who recognizes that a neighbour is someone in trouble, who truly sees when and where help is needed, who shows mercy even to those who do not ask?
If Jesus were to tell the parable today, would he choose...us?