The Good Samaritan - thinking transformed by Jesus

Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday of Year C

by Fr. Tommy Lane

What a shock Jesus’ parable about the Good Samaritan must have been for his listeners. It shocked his listeners in a different way to us because they lived in a different time with different circumstances. It was probably not a shock that the priest passed by on the other side of the road because if the injured man appeared dead the priest would be unclean according to Jewish law if he touched the dead man and would be unable to function as a priest for a week. The Levite passed by on the other side of the road and that may not have been a shock either since Levites were the priests’ assistants. That twenty mile road from Jerusalem to Jericho was well known for robbers, so it was not unusual for someone to be attacked and robbed. Sometimes the robbers would even pretend to be injured by the side of the road and when someone would go to help they would then attack the unsuspecting kind man. Fear of the injured man being a decoy may be a reason why someone would leave a man by the side of the road. So for a number of reasons those listening to Jesus may not have been too shocked at the priest and Levite passing by on the other side of the road, even though that is what shocks us.

The shock for Jews listening to Jesus was that it was a Samaritan who went over to the injured man. They might have suspected a fellow Israelite would be the one Jesus would make the hero. But it is a Samaritan whom Jesus makes the hero of the parable.  That was a shock. The Samaritans were living in Samaria, north of Jerusalem. Samaritans had been Jews until the eight century BC when they intermarried with foreigners who colonized Samaria (2 Kings 17:5-41). After that time the Jews no longer considered the Samaritans as Jews since they had lost the purity of their Jewish race. From then on there was constant friction between the Jews and Samaritans. The Samaritans refused to worship in the Temple in Jerusalem and built their own temple. They refused to accept the Old Testament that the Jews had so the Samaritans had their own Old Testament. Then about 128 BC the Jews destroyed the Samaritans’ temple and relations were at an all time low after that. So as Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan the shock was that it was a Samaritan, hated by the Jews, who went over to help. It would have been no problem for those listening to Jesus if an Israelite went over to help and became the hero of the parable. But it was a Samaritan! He was the one who was the good neighbor; he helped the injured man, took him to the inn and gave two denarii, two days wages, to care for him until his return.

Of course Jesus was challenging the thinking of those who listened to him. This parable challenged his listeners to think in a new way; to no longer regard the Samaritans as enemies but as neighbors worthy of love. Reaching out to others and building bridges is what Jesus did many times in his ministry and Luke’s Gospel, which we read this year, has more accounts of Jesus doing this than the other Gospels. Luke is obviously trying to emphasize more than the other evangelists that Jesus made great efforts to reach out to all peoples. Everything Jesus did was teaching us something about the type of Church he wants us to be. Jesus expects us therefore to be a Church that is united, where everybody is loved. Paul wrote that because of Christ there is now no longer Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female (Gal 3:28). Yet Paul also realizes that we have different roles in the Church; Paul describes the Church as a body and says all the different parts belong in the body and if one part suffers all suffer. (1 Cor 12:14-26). But we are all to be united around Christ. That is why in the second reading today (Col 1:15-20) Paul wrote that Jesus made peace by his death on the cross and everything is to be reconciled in Christ (Col 1:20). Paul never met Jesus so far as we know. At first he persecuted Christians but what a transformation took place in Paul as he understood the message of Christ and what it means for us. He was so totally transformed on the road to Damascus that he understood perfectly Jesus’ teaching though he had never met him. Paul allowed his thinking to be changed and lived the message of Jesus’ parable.

Apart from telling us something about the type of Church Jesus expects us to be, does the Parable of the Good Samaritan have any special meaning for us in our lives? What is Jesus trying to teach you in this parable? Do we need to allow our thinking to be changed in any way? After telling the parable Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three proved himself a neighbor…” (Luke 10:36) and the lawyer responded, “The one who took pity on him.” (Luke 10:37) Then Jesus said, “Go, and do the same yourself.” (Luke 10:37)

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered when I was on vacation in Ireland after joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for the Fifteenth Sunday Year C

Good Samaritan - the Medicine of Love

Father Damien of Molokai was a Good Samaritan

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