27th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday (Year II)
Jesus’ growing reputation for wisdom drew the religious authorities of his day to come and probe his mind. Was he well versed in the Torah and traditions of Judaism? Was his orthodoxy sound? Did he speak their language? Could he be counted as “one of us”?
There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test Jesus and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
Like a good teacher, Jesus drew the answer from his inquirer.
He said in reply, “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 neighbor as yourself.”
The scholar cited Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, the double commandment of love of God and neighbor familiar to the scribes and lawyers. So familiar, in fact, that knowing was often confused with doing.
He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”
A+. The scholar passed the oral exam with flying colors. Having the “right answers” and formulating precise definitions were the expertise of the intellectual. But to put theory into action? Jesus had only one piece of advice, “Do it.”
This unsettled the scholar, so he opened his mouth again to receive further clarification. Surely Jesus was not suggesting that he was wanting in his religious observance…?
But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Distinctions, distinctions! The intellectual games of dissection and analysis, definitions and distinctions, sent players on a head trip far away from the plain truth right in front of them. Jesus told a story to awaken consciences buried under layers of “knowledge” and “orthodoxy.”
Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.
They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
No reason is given for the priest’s neglect of the savagely beaten man obviously in need of help. Perhaps it was a corpse? The priest could bury the man, but then he would have to deal with the inconvenience of being “unclean” for seven days after touching a corpse (Numbers 19:11).
Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
Levites were also hyper-conscious of ritual purity. Corpse-contamination was forbidden except for his closest relatives (Leviticus 21:1-3). Neither the priest nor the Levite ventured close enough to find out whether he was dead or alive.
But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight.
Mention of a Samaritan sent a shudder through the Jews. Samaria was overrun by unclean heretics of a cult. Their religion was syncretistic—a mixture of Jewish and Gentile practices and beliefs. Intermarriage with foreigners made them abominable enemies.
The third passerby, the unexpected hero of the story, dropped his plans for the day to help the wounded man. He was “moved with compassion” (splagchnizomai), moved in the inward parts or entrails—heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys—in the seat of his affections.
He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn, and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’
Jesus gave a detailed description of the Samaritan’s every action from start to finish, a soul-stirring account of selfless love in stark contrast to the cold neglect of the priest and Levite. With his own hands he cleansed and soothed the victim’s wounds. He stayed overnight with the wounded stranger at an inn, feeding and sheltering him. Having the trust of the innkeeper, he turned over the care of the patient to him with the promise to pay every penny necessary to get him back on his feet.
Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.”
The heart detects true love and mercy instinctively. The scholar, though inwardly divided by his calculating intellect, unfailingly recognized the nobility of the Samaritan traveler and reluctantly admitted it. His heart was alive, but covered with the dust and cobwebs of definitions and distinctions.
Jesus seems to have changed the question from “Who is my neighbor?” to “Who is the true neighbor to others?” but they are one and same question. Helper and helped are neighbors one to another. God makes no distinctions among persons.
With this parable, Jesus awakens the whole person to perceive reality as it truly is: with all the heart (kardia), with all the soul (psuché), with all the strength (ischus), and with all the mind (dianoia). Love of God and neighbor involves the whole person (Luke 10:27).
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”