The parable of the “Good Samaritan” is one of the most well known and remembered parables in the Gospel and its meaning and challenge is clear to most of us. This parable helps us to be more fully aware that the sin of the Priest and Levite is not that they have done any wrong, but that they have not done the needed good.
This is what we call the sin of “omission;” the prayer that we all pray as we begin each Mass when we say, “I confess.” In that prayer we remember and admit that it is “I” not any other person who have sinned through my own fault – for what I have done, and what I have failed to do. . . the failure to do the good that we ought to have done.
We may claim and insist that we have not done any wrong to anyone. But, Jesus, through today’s Gospel, is asking you and I the basic question,“How much good have we done?” The Priest and the Levite in today’s Gospel passed the test of not harming the dying person that they came across, but failed the test of not having helped the dying person which the Good Samaritan did, in spite of being a foreigner and an “enemy” of the Jews, so courageously, so generously and so totally.
Thus, the first question that you and I have to ask ourselves today is this, “Is my daily living founded on the values of the Priest and Levite of being “non-committal” to the needs of people and as long as we do not harm others or is my life more like the Good Samaritan who reaches out to others, regardless of who they are with deep compassion, courage, generosity and love? This is a question that you and I have to answer each time when we meet Jesus’ Spirit in our conscience daily and ultimately when we meet Him after we die.
The next level of challenge of this parable is quite different. For this we need some background of the context of the parable. The Gospel scene describes all three persons traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. While Jerusalem is 2,300 feet above sea-level, the Dead Sea which is near Jericho is about 1,300 feet below sea-level. Within 20 miles, the road drops 3,600 feet. Thus, we are referring to a scene which is very rough, rocky, steep and secluded as a mountainous terrain.
Moreover, these places are full of robbers. It is very probable that a wounded person could be used as a trap a passers by, as the other robbers may be hiding nearby and ready to pounce on any person who tries to stop by. Also, to help a dying person would also run the risk of being falsely accused of causing the harm.
The next important point to consider is that both the Priest and Levite are returning from Jerusalem. They have presumably gone to the Holy City to fulfil their liturgical duties in the Temple. In Jewish Law, if a Priest and Levite to come too close to a dead person, let alone touch a dead body, they would be defiled. This means that they would have to return to the Temple of Jerusalem where they have been performing their duties and undergo a week of shameful and public ritual of purification.
From this background information we can see that it is very understandable why the Priest and Levite were fearful of helping the dying man. The first lesson we can learn from this level of interpreting the Gospel today is not to be critical and judgmental about the deeds of others. If you and I were in such a situation, “Would we have responded with the same caution as the Priest and Levite?”
Have we not read in newspaper reports of how at scenes of mugging or someone being hurt at a bus stop or how some years ago, someone lying motionless beside a hotel, and passers by just walking pass without lifting a finger to help. The common reasons these people and us will give would be that we do not want to be involved in other people’s problems or be interrogated by the police and worse still suspected of being the cause of the crime.
While these are all valid reasons, to a certain degree we are all guilty of being over protective of ourselves or being self-centered. Thus, it is very easy for us to convince ourselves with many good reasons, like the Priest and the Levite, that we should not get involved?! It is also so easy to be critical and be judgmental about the deeds of others and yet, when it comes to us, we too are as guilty as the very same people we are critical and judgmental about. Jesus tells us in the Gospel too, that we are to remove the “plank in our own eyes before we try to remove the splinter in the eyes of others.”
There is a story of John whose work is to control the railway tracks to ensure that trains travel on their specific tracks of their route. John’s work is crucial; if he is irresponsible, trains may get derailed or even crash. One day, as a train was speeding towards him, the system broke down. John panicked as he knew he had only about 3 minutes rectify the situation; he could see the headlights of the oncoming train. So, he rushed out and dashed across the bridge to manually hold the lever down with all his might so that the track would be in place for the train to cross the bridge. If this fails, the train with many passengers on board would likely be derailed and even crash and plunge into the river which was about 200 meters below.
Suddenly, to his horror, John saw his young son happily skipping over the tracks of the bridge and coming towards him. John knew that there was no time to rescue his son. He knew that if he let go of the lever to save his son, hundreds of people may die. John held on to the lever and allowed the train to speed by . . . his heart was torn between saving his son’s life or the lives of the hundreds of faceless people on the train.
If John simply saved his son’s life and if it resulted in the train crashing into the river and causing the death of hundreds of people, John could easily have hidden his personal motive and blamed it on the faulty lever. If that happened, would John’s conscience be at peace?
My brothers and sisters in Christ, John’s and the Good Samaritan’s deeds are not commonly found in people. We have to admit that they are truly courageous and heroic. The question we have to ask ourselves today is, “Do we want to allow Jesus’ challenge of the Gospel for us to be more like the Good Samaritan and John or simply remain a mediocre believer like the Priest and Levite?”
The Priest and the Levite were good people, but while their love for others did not cause harm to others, it remained conditional while the love of the Good Samaritan and John were unconditional.
A lot of today’s Gospel challenge depends on how we each understand the meaning of “who is our neighbour.” If we put restrictions and conditions to the type of people we want to love i.e. to love only our own family and those who love us then, at best our love would in all probability be at the level of the Priest and Levite of today’s Gospel.
But, if we want to heed Jesus’ challenge of today’s Gospel, then let us ask ourselves, “Am I satisfied with living my faith by not harming anyone? What about Jesus’ challenge to live our faith positively by doing good deeds to others like the Good Samaritan and John? Also, today’s Gospel is challenging us to the truth that before judging others and being critical about them, can we try to put more positive interpretations on what we see in others? Let God judge them, lest we are guilty of overlooking the plank in our own eyes while being over concerned about removing the splinter in others.
Finally, “Are we open to Jesus’ challenge to love Him unconditionally as He Himself has taught and shown us? The fullest expression of love and who is our neighbour come from looking and following Jesus. The Christ, the Son of God, whose love is unconditional and whose love is willing to die for the sake of all peoples. Every person is our neighbour; every person is loved by God; every person is to be saved by Christ.
Do we want to be part of God’s saving plan to reach out to others, like the Good Samaritan and John, and with the love of Christ or are we satisfied with being a mediocre or minimalist believer of Christ like the Priest and Levite? No one can answer this question for us except ourselves. How is the Holy Spirit stirring your heart
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.
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