The Good Samaritan

The readings for Sunday, July 10, 2016, Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, are
Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Colossians 1:15-20; and Luke 10:25-37.

Luke begins, “A scholar of the law stood up to test Jesus, and said….” A scholar of the law in the New Testament is more commonly known as a scribe. The “law” is not civil law or canon law but the Torah, the laws of Moses and everything else contained in the first five books of the Bible. This scribe wanted to know, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” A typical response to a question among the learned was a counter-question. So Jesus responded, “What is written in the Torah? How do you read (it)?” The learned scribe honored Jesus by asking his opinion. Jesus honors him by recognizing his knowledge.

The first part of the answer is a quote from Deuteronomy 6:5. This quote is part of a short “creed” called the Shema, translated into English as “Listen” or “Hear.” The introduction goes like this, “Hear, O Israel.” This is followed by a profession of the Oneness of God in contrast to the worship of many gods by tribes and peoples surrounding the ancient Israelites, “The Lord our God is one Lord.” Then these words quoted by the scribe, “You shall love the Lord your God from your whole heart, and in your whole soul, and in all your strength, and in your whole mind.” Love of God is one major theme of the Book of Deuteronomy. The scribe attaches to the Shema another commandment not found in Deuteronomy, but in Leviticus 19:18, “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Because of its appalling, shocking condemnations of neighboring tribes opposed to Israel, Deuteronomy is an unusual source for a command to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

Jesus compliments the scribe. You have answered correctly,” and adds a quote from Deuteronomy 30:6, “Do this and you will live.” In Deuteronomy these words apply to loving the Lord God, not to loving one’s neighbor. It is significant therefore that Jesus applies them not just to loving the Lord God, “that you may live,” but also to loving one’s neighbor as oneself, “that you may live.” The scribe asks, “So who is my neighbor?” Jesus will answer with a story, but how would the scribe have answered his own question? He would have quoted Leviticus 19:17- 18, “You shall not hate your brother (fellow Israelite) in your heart, but you shall reason with your neighbor, lest you bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people.” Then follows the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Leviticus 19:33 extends love to the stranger living among the Israelites, “You shall love him as yourself.” Such would have been the scribe’s answer if Jesus had asked the same counter-question as earlier, and we would never have known Jesus’ answer — the story of the Good Samaritan.

The story or parable is well-known. Samaritans and Jews, due to unfortunate historical events were enemies for centuries. By this story the Lucan Jesus extends love of neighbor from fellow-Jews and strangers among them to enemies or supposed enemies. We can assume that the man who was assaulted, robbed, and beaten en route from Jerusalem to Jericho was a Jew. According to the Torah cited above he was entitled to the loving attention and care of his own people. But who sees this desperate man and crosses the road to avoid him? First a priest, then a Levite. Both were specialists in the worship of God commanded by the Torah and would have known the commandments of the Torah, not just the Big Ten, but all 613 of them. That would include Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor (fellow-Jew) as yourself.” But no help from the Torah-loving clergy! Along comes a supposed enemy of the unfortunate Jew who fell among robbers. It is this despised Samaritan who puts into practice the Torah, to love the stranger. He gave of his time, his treasure, and therefore his love.

Jesus asks the scribe a question, “Which of these three in your opinion was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” Response of the learned scholar of the Torah in a literal translation of Luke’s Greek sentence: “The one who did mercy with him.” The answer was correct. Jesus’ closing advice to the scribe and to all Christians, “Go and do likewise.” There is another story something like this. During the horrors and massacres surrounding the separation of India and Pakistan many years ago, a Hindu approached Gandhi to unburden his conscience. He had participated in a massacre of Muslim children. Gandhi’s advice to his fellow-Hindu, “Adopt a Muslim orphan and raise that child as a devout Muslim.” Jesus answered not only the scribe’s second question, but also the first. Those who love God above all things and put that love into effect by kindness to anyone in need will “inherit eternal life.”