Sunday Homily – 15th Sunday C
You hear the words ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.’ You know at once that they begin the famous parable of Jesus, the parable of the Good Samaritan, told one more time today. To understand and appreciate it, we must remember that Jesus told his story to answer the question put to him: ‘Who is my neighbour?’
In the Jewish religion at the time of Jesus, there was much discussion about just who is one’s neighbour. It was generally thought that one’s neighbour is restricted to those who are born Jewish and those who have become Jewish. With his choice of a Samaritan who gives striking practical assistance to the wounded Jewish man, Jesus is asserting that our neighbour is simply any human being in need. So, the idea of neighbour goes way beyond our family, friends, work-mates, nationality, political party, comfort zones and church. Jesus is asserting that even our enemy is our neighbour. (At the time he was telling the story, Jews and Samaritans were, in fact, deadly enemies).
So, Jesus is teaching in this parable that no one at all must be excluded from our care and concern, but also that our love of neighbour must be practical. Notice how the Samaritan behaves in the parable? If he had been content to say to the wounded and bleeding Jewish man: ‘Bad luck, Buddy! What a mess they’ve made of you! But cheer up! It could be worse! You could be dead!’ and then galloped off, he would have been cruel, heartless, and insulting. Instead, he does all he possibly can for the man who fell among thieves. Jesus spells this out when he tells us:
But a Samaritan traveller who came upon him was moved with compassion when he saw him. He went up and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He then lifted him onto his own mount, carried him to the inn and looked after him. The next day he took out two denarii and handed them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said, “and on my way back I will make good any extra expense you have.”
At the end of the parable, Jesus puts this question to the teacher who questioned him: ‘Which of these, the Levite, the priest, or the Samaritan, showed himself to be a real neighbour to the wounded man?’ He gets the answer he was looking for: ‘The one who took pity on the wounded one.’
In our lives, then, the neighbour we are called to love is, in a nutshell, any person in any situation, who needs me right there and then. We must not discriminate. We must not pick and choose. Neither must we wait, till people in need turn up, perhaps quite dramatically. God asks us to be on the lookout for them, focus on them, and then put ourselves out to support them – with our resources of compassion, outreach, time, energy, and money.
In his beautiful book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Emeritus Benedict suggests a challenging application of the parable. He sees the entire continent of Africa represented in the unfortunate man who was robbed, wounded, and left for dead on the side of the road. He sees people like us represented by those two professionals who pass by on the other side of the road – sometimes too selfish, too busy, and too preoccupied with our schedules, agendas and other personal concerns to stop, look, listen, feel for and help those who are hurting.
I think that if Jesus came to Israel today and a lawyer asked him again, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ he might change the parable a bit. In place of the Samaritan, he might put a Palestinian! If a Palestinian were to ask him the same question, in the Samaritan’s place we might find a Jew!
But it’s just too easy to limit the discussion to Africa and the Middle East. If any one of us were to put to Jesus the question ‘Who is my neighbour?’ what would he answer? He would certainly remind us that our neighbour is not only our fellow countrymen but also those outside our nation and community, not only Christians but Muslims and Hindus also, not only Catholics but Protestants too, and not only believers but also people with no religious faith. But he would immediately add that the most important thing is not simply to know who my neighbour is. The most important thing is to show what it means to love my neighbour, the person i.e., whoever it may be, who in any situation needs me right there and then. ‘Go and be the Good Samaritan to them, and go now,’ that’s what Jesus would surely be saying to you and me.
So, at every Eucharist, let us pray for the grace to respond to the clear and challenging teaching of Jesus our Guide, both on who my neighbour is, and on how to care for my neighbour in the kindest and most practical ways possible!
Brian Gleeson is a Passionist priest, and a member of the Passionist community in Endeavour Hills, Melbourne.