This very famous parable, found only in Luke, invites us to recapture and rediscover the truth of the basic goodness of human nature, and the potential for good deep within each one of us, despite what happens on the surface. Jesus is teaching that the 'neighbour' is one who makes himself or herself present and available. And being present and available can mean getting our hands dirty, becoming involved.
Many years ago, I was giving a catechism class in a school. I shall always remember the little girl who suddenly asked in the middle of the class: 'Father, why do we have to die before we can see Jesus?' And very often we do have to 'die' before we can recognise Jesus, discern what he may be saying, or even hear his voice:
The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice.(Jn 10:27)
The starting-point of Jesus and the lawyer is the Old Testament, a summary of the Law of Deuteronomy and Leviticus. The lawyer asks Jesus about the meaning of the word 'neighbour'. Jesus tells a story and reasserts the universal position of the meaning of neighbour. Unlike the other characters in the story, the Samaritan by his actions understood the word 'neighbour' perfectly.
It is sometimes said that of all the parables Jesus told, this one is most direct and needs no explanation. And so this parable would be unlikely to stimulate any real thinking. But what is often forgotten is that the Good Samaritan parable is in fact an answer, an answer to the question: 'What must I do to inherit eternal life?'
Jesus' answer is a guideline for learning how to love, and how to grow in the practical ways of love. But how do we follow this example, how do we rise to the challenge offered by this parable? First, we will need to begin to acknowledge the prejudices which inhibit us and the fears which paralyse us. And then we will have to begin to 'die' a little, so that we may 'see' Jesus and allow him to move us to action...
All over the world today, there are many who are bruised and wounded, are robbed and exploited and denied human rights. They are waiting on our action...
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul is lyrical about the new people being formed by Christ. Christians are that community without barriers, borders or divisions. Christ is forming a people committed to love and care of one another and the earth. The new chosen people are now all those who stop on the road of life, giving help and showing solidarity to those in need.
Very often, what makes news in the media are the bad things: political injustice, immorality, gruesome murders and wars. This can influence and confirm our prejudices, fears, and ideas about the wickedness of human nature.
The Good Samaritan parable is also saying that even in the meanest person, there is the capacity to love and give selflessly. Jesus wanted the lawyer to experience giving selflessly and being positive about human nature.
For some, there may be a temptation to focus on the negative elements of the story: the brigands, the priest, the levite. But then we risk being like the media: the only news is bad news. We risk confirming our fears and prejudices.
Jesus emphasizes the goodness and the great capabilities of human nature. Jesus gives us the true meaning of Deuteronomy and the Law. While we continue to support CAFOD, the SVP and our favourite charities, there are situations and circumstances where we are personally challenged to become involved.
This is a precise point of the Good Samaritan story. The potential to do great things is deep within each person, and yearns to be expressed in real life situations. When will we die to our fears, so that we can truly see Jesus in those marginalized or despised? When will we take the risk of spontaneous action?
'Master what must I do to inherit eternal life?' 'Go and do the same yourself...'