July 12, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

Parable of the Good Samaritan shows us love is action

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“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” (Lk 10:27).

This Sunday, the 15th in Ordinary Time, the Church invites us to reflect on the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10: 25-37), which is often used as a reference point for Pope Francis in his homilies and presentations. It’s a powerful story, and the fact that we’ve all heard it many times should not allow us to take it for granted.

Jesus is speaking with “a scholar of the law” (Lk 10:25), a learned and presumably devout man who wants to test Jesus’ knowledge of the complex requirements of Jewish law. The question this scholar asks is an important one: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lk 10:25) Jesus gives what the scholar says is the correct answer: “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” (Lk 10:27).

This is, after all, one of the most fundamental teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures. By loving God and our neighbor, we experience life in all its fullness. “Do this and you shall live” (Lk 10:28), the scholar says.

But what is “love” exactly? And who is my neighbor? These are both important questions because, as we know, love can mean very different things, and who we consider our neighbor says a lot about who we are and what our attitudes are toward people who are not like us.

The scholar in St. Luke’s Gospel doesn’t ask about the meaning of love, but he does test Jesus by asking “who is my neighbor?” (Lk 10:29) St. Luke tells us that by asking this question the scholar “wishes to justify himself” (Lk 10:29), which may mean that he was already predisposed to the traditional understanding that a neighbor is a member of one’s own community, someone who shares the customs, values and religious beliefs of his or her own kind.

Jesus answers the question “who is my neighbor?” with the parable we call the Good Samaritan. The story is full of contradictions. A man is severely beaten, robbed and left alone to die. Two travelers who we would ordinarily expect to offer assistance go out of their way to avoid dealing with this half-dead member of their own community. These “good Jews,” a priest and a Levite, were indifferent to the plight of one of their own. Their hearts were hardened, and in their selfishness they sinned against the commandment to love God in and through their neighbor.

This would be shocking enough—to have apparently righteous men display such callous disregard for one of their own. But the parable goes on to say that a foreigner, a Samaritan despised by the Jews, showed great compassion on the man’s suffering. “He came upon him, was moved with compassion at the sight. 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” (Lk 10:33-34).

Whereas the priest and Levite went out of their way to avoid helping one of their own kind, the foreigner went the extra mile and committed his time, effort and money to care for someone whom he didn’t know and whom many of his fellow Samaritans would say was an enemy not worth the trouble.

As we know, when he had finished telling the parable, Jesus asked, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” (Lk 10:36) The scholar answered, “The one who treated him with mercy” (Lk 10:37). Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37).

The parable of the Good Samaritan answers both questions: What is love, and who is my neighbor? It tells us that love is action and that my neighbor is anyone who needs my help. It illustrates the fundamental truth that “loving God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind” is not possible unless you also “love your neighbor as yourself.”

The parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us to let go of our preoccupation with self and be attentive to the needs of others, to share our time, talent and treasure with our neighbors. This is the meaning of love—returning to God all the gifts he has given us by sharing them generously (out of justice and charity) with our neighbors.

Let’s listen to this parable with open minds and hearts. Let’s imitate the Good Samaritan in our daily lives out of love for God and our neighbor. “Do this and you will live!” †

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