Jesus and the Good Samaritan

Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is challenging on many levels. James DiGiacomo’s entry (July 11) effectively highlights the provocative quality of Jesus’ decision to make a despised Samaritan the hero of his story. I want to focus here on how Jesus turns the lawyer’s question--Who is my neighbor?--on its head. While the parable teaches us to expand the horizons of our love and concern, Jesus’ main point is to exhort us to become a neighbor like the Good Samaritan was to the victimized traveler. The road that descended from Jerusalem to Jericho was notoriously treacherous, as it wound through several narrow passes. It was easy for bandits to hide and then flee after they robbed and terrorized their victims. And the man Jesus describes was not just a victim of robbery; indeed, he was badly beaten and left to die in his pool of blood. It is upon this scene that the Samaritan arrives. While calling 9-1-1 was not an option, his actions reveal that he probably wouldn’t have limited his response to that. Getting off his animal--and thus exposing himself to danger--he Samaritan rolls up his sleeves and gets to work. Notice how he literally reaches out to the victim. Setting aside his repugnance at the sight of human carnage, the Samaritan cleans the man’s wounds and bandages them. Then he places the injured man on his animal--thereby making himself even more vulnerable to attack--and leads the victim to an inn where he extended more care to him. In telling this story, Jesus certainly sets the bar high for what it means to be a good neighbor! He calls us to treat every person we meet--including our rivals and those whose condition frightens and repels us--with compassion. But there is another twist. Jesus does more than teach; he also leads by example. Jesus’ entire mission was to seek out those who dwelled in darkness and the shadow of death (Luke 1:79). He came to search for the lost sheep and, upon finding it, to place it on his shoulders and bring it to safety (15:4-7). Moreover, Jesus was not sentimental about what his mission entailed. His exhortation to be compassionate just as the Father is compassionate comes at the end of his teaching to love one’s enemies (6:27-36). Jesus put this exhortation into practice when, in exposing his own life to reach out to save us from our sins, he prayed for those who put him to death (23:34) and showed compassion to the repentant bandit crucified next to him (23:43). In short, Jesus’ entire life and ministry is an enactment of the story of the Good Samaritan--something that St. Augustine and other Fathers saw. While this has extremely challenging ramifications for our discipleship, it is also consoling to know that his healing touch reaches us when we are most in need. Thomas D. Stegman, S.J.
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