SUNDAY REFLECTION: “BE A GOOD SAMARITAN”


BE A GOOD SAMARITAN
Two weeks ago, I saw a relatively
old man at a subway station with a host of books. On sighting me, he approached
me, extending one of his books to me for free, not even minding the fact that I
was in a haste to catch up with the train for I was really behind time. I made
signs of disinterestedness, he, nevertheless insisted and said in Portuguese: “o
livro é muito bom, é uma pequena história da minha vida anterior” (the book is
very good, it is a little story of my earlier life), forced it into my hands
while I hurried through the elevator and he left. I didn’t stare at the book
until after some time in the train, and to my surprise it was a book written in
English language, titled: “RESCUED BY A GOOD SAMARITAN”. Apart from the fact
that it’s often difficult to behold an English text in this part of the world,
I kept pondering on the title of the book and why it has a lot to do with the
description “Good Samaritan”.
In our present day
society, we have come to be acquainted with the popularity of the phrase “Good
Samaritan”, attributing it to a helper in times of need. This is obvious because
it springs from the teachings of Christ. Put differently, of all of the teachings of Jesus, the parable of the
Good Samaritan is undoubtedly the most famous, known to Christians and
non-Christians alike. His parable is, of course, about responsibility, about
caring for others no matter whom or what they may be. The colloquial phrase “Good
Samaritan”, has come to mean someone who helps a stranger as we see in the
parable, and many hospitals and charitable organizations are named after the Good
Samaritan.
Today’s
readings challenge us ethically. In the Gospel according to Luke, we are faced with
the parable of the Good Samaritan.  The parable of the Good Samaritan is a didactic story told
by Jesus in Luke 10:25–37. It is about a traveler, most probably a Jewish traveler
who is stripped of his clothing, beaten, and left half dead alongside the road.
First a priest and then a Levite came by, but both avoided the man. Finally, a Samaritan comes
by. Samaritans and Jews generally despised each other, but the Samaritan helps
the injured man. Jesus is described as telling the parable in response to the
question from a lawyer as we see in today’s gospel: “And who is my
neighbour?” whom Leviticus 19:18 says should be loved. Jesus answers his question in
the light of the parable. It is pertinent to note that among the synoptic
gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), Luke is the only evangelist who narrates the
story of the Good Samaritan. Does this make any meaning to us? The theology of
the New Testament vis-à-vis the gospels, reveals the peculiarity of each gospel
and its targeted audience respectively. For Luke, the recipients of his gospel
are the less privileged, the sinners, the poor, women, the Samaritans etc. These
we see in Luke 4:18-19; that is, Christ at the beginning of his Galilean
Ministry declared his mission statement by quoting the prophet Isaiah: “…He has
sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed
go free…” These characteristics of the gospel of Luke are different when
compared with the other synoptic gospels.
Having said
these, the next question that may come in mind is: who are the Samaritans, and
why was Christ so interested in them in the gospel of Luke that he made them
models of appreciation (Luke 17:11-19) and exemplary charity and mercy, as we
see in today’s gospel?  The Samaritans were
people who lived in what had been the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Samaria, the
name of that kingdom’s capital, was located between Galilee in the north and
Judea in the south. The Samaritans were a racially mixed society with Jewish
and pagan ancestry. Although they worshiped Yahweh as did the Jews, their
religion was not mainstream Judaism. They accepted only the first five books of
the Bible as canonical, and their temple was on Mount Gerazim instead of on
Mount Zion in Jerusalem (Jn 4:20).
The Samaritans of
Jesus’ day were strict monotheists. In some respects they were stricter than
Jews about the commands of the Mosaic Law, especially the Sabbath regulations,
but they did not share the Jewish stricture against pronouncing the divine name
Yahweh in their oaths. Because of their imperfect adherence to Judaism and
their partly pagan ancestry, the Samaritans were despised by ordinary Jews.
Rather than contaminate themselves by passing through Samaritan territory, the
other Jews who were traveling from Judea to Galilee or vice versa would cross
over the river Jordan, bypass Samaria by going through Transjordan, and cross
over the river again as they neared their destination. The Samaritans also
harbored antipathy toward the Jews (Lk 9:52-53). Put differently, as the Jews
despised the Samaritans, the Samaritans equally despised the Jews.
That the Samaritans
were separated from and looked down upon by the Jews makes them important in
the New Testament. Jesus indicated a new attitude must be taken toward the
Samaritans when he passed through their towns instead of crossing the Jordan to
avoid them (Jn 4:4-5), when he spoke with a Samaritan woman, contrary to Jewish
custom (Jn 4:9), and when he said a time would come when worshiping in
Jerusalem or on Mount Gerazim would not be important (Jn 4:21-24). When asked
whom to regard as our neighbour, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan
precisely because Samaritans were despised. From
the foregoing, portraying a Samaritan in a positive light would have come as a
shock to Jesus’ audience (Jews). This served as a lesson to that young scholar
of the law (Jew) who stood up to test him. Relating the parable of the Good
Samaritan is an invitation by Christ to break down the walls of hatred and
prejudice between tribes, religions, cultures, etc., and see ourselves as brothers
and sisters (neighbours), as we see from the example of the gospel. This makes
us to understand that Christ has indeed come to reconcile us (the “scattered”
Children of God). This reconciliatory role of Christ is what St. Paul explains
in the Second Reading in his letter to the Colossians 1:15-20: “…For in him all
the fullness was pleased to dwell, and
through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross…whether
those on earth or those in heaven.”
We live
in a society of diverse cultures, languages, religions and ideologies. Many a
times, we tend to look down on the other person and pass judgment just because
we think he/she doesn’t worship God in the proper way or does not live up to
expectation, just as the Jews despised the Samaritans in the days of Christ. Often
times, we only help those who are close or related to us, and consider the
other of different tribe or religion. The parable of the Good Samaritan is
meant for each and every one of us today, for its reality is not disconnected
from the happenings in our day to day lives. This is an invitation for each and
every one of us to “BE A GOOD SAMARITAN” in our various spheres of lives.
This teaching
by Christ is not so difficult to memorize in order to put into practice; just as
we see in the First reading from the Book of Deuteronomy 30:10-14. In this we
see Moses exhorting the people to heed to the commands of the Lord… he went on
to say that “…For
this command that I enjoin on you today is not
too mysterious and remote for you. It is
not up in the sky, that you should say, ‘Who
will go up in the sky to get it for us and
tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ Nor is
it across the sea, that you should say, ‘Who
will cross the sea to get it for us and
tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ No, it
is something very near to you, already
in your mouths and in your hearts; you
have only to carry it out.” This exhortation of Moses to the people of
Israel is coterminous/coextensive with
the Responsorial Psalm (Ps. 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37):
Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live”.
Dearest friends,
today offers us the opportunity (chairos) to turn to the Lord and his Teachings.
Let us turn to the teachings of Christ. In a difficult society like ours which
is characterized by religious violence, hatred, cultural indifference,
nepotism, “godfatherism”, racism, set -backs, etc.,  you can be a Good Samaritan, I can equally be
a Good Samaritan. May Christ grant us the grace to achieve this. Amen.

Shalom!

Happy 15th
Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C  

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