The good Samaritan, if one looks at today’s gospel Lk 10:25-37 that is what you would see. Eyes and ears might be drawn to the recognizable story, and the conclusions might be rapidly made. The moral of the story can be recited with little thought, it is all so very familiar. The problem is that is not the purpose of that story , it is intended to be mulled over, to be examined from every angle. To be questioned.
One angle is to begin not by dissecting the story, but looking at why it was told. The man talking to Jesus is inquiring about obtaining eternal life. That man is a scholar, an intellectual, an academic. He asks a question and fully expects to argue the response, members of academia are critical thinkers. Jesus knows this, and so inquires what the law states. The man responds with the appropriate laws, love of God and of neighbor. He wishes to justify himself, and wishes to delve into the specifics. In justifying himself , maneuvers towards a legality.
He (I suspect) wishes to know who his neighbor is, in the eyes of God. He seeks legally defined duties and responsibilities. He is into complexities. Its a complex world, at least to some. This smart-man can differentiate between many different types of men, how many different types of humans did God create? The question is not directed at the twenty first century anthropologist. God created man in His own image. Man is singular, not plural; just as God is singular and not the plural gods of the pagans.One species and two sexes. I hope I don’t get into trouble saying that.
Jesus’s story, and in that story Jesus presents evidence that all men are neighbors, it is not simply that the one that responds with kindness is a neighbor. We are all neighbors, we simply are not all good neighbors. Simple point. The priest was the neighbor of the attacked man, and so was the Levites, and even the robber was a neighbor. The Samaritan simply was the neighbor that loved his neighbors as himself. He acted with mercy and compassion, he fulfilled the second law. Did he fulfill the law regarding love of God? Who has the right to ask that question. Even “the good neighbor” has their flaws. Forgiveness anyone? Not then, how about now? Take a look at that very same mideastern neighborhood today. How much different world politics would be today if we recognized each human being as a neighbor of equal stature as ourselves. As I read this story of “The Good Samaritan” I also realize that the Apostles also had read it, and look at what Saint Paul accomplished with the lessons of this short tale! He became the Apostle to the Gentiles, he recognized those pagans as neighbors, and repeated the story to them. Love your enemy, love the sinner, love your neighbor. Love your neighbor as God loves you, and He so loved the world He sent His only begotten Son.
In thinking about neighbors, is it wrong to ask who created neighbors? We know from Genesis that God created man. We know that God created man in his image and likeness, and saw that man was good. Neighbors ‘sort of’ enter into creation at the tower of Babylon, when man begins to act as if they were god. In that account God scatters man, and confuses their tongues. Neighborhoods are created, and at least bad neighbors are created through mans own fault. The good neighbor, any good neighbor, tries to correct that fault by entering back into the grace of God. To think of that Samaritan’s actions, one has to think that his good actions were carried out with the full knowledge that they would be unreciprocated. Hostilities run deep. It seems that every sinister move man makes creates a new ghetto. Ghettos and slums are wretched and decrepit neighborhoods. God is a benevolent landlord, man tends to be greedy hoarding slumlords. And who is my neighbor?
If the intellectual-man that asked the question of Jesus wished for a justification, does anyone think he put himself in the injured persons shoes? What would his response be if a Samaritan had tended to him? Would he be merciful in return even though that would go against his culture? If that Samaritan offered him something, would he accept the offering? I think the word I am hinting at is dialogue. The Samaritan healed physical wounds, could cultural wounds be healed in the same manner? It takes two to Tango! The man talking to Jesus asked questions, shouldn’t we do the same ? What does it take to be good a neighbor? What does it take to be good neighbors? Notice the plural. Is that a tough question, as tough as sending a satellite across the universe? We did one, why cant we do the other? “And who is my neighbor” is a question asked over two thousand years ago, why is there so much trouble in answering this riddle today? Its not a brainteaser, its the simplest and most basic of questions. The one and only correct response is fundamental to civilization. The question was asked, why so much avoidance in giving an answer?
This is much of the mission of Jesus, to bring neighbors together. His mission was to go after the lost sheep of Israel, and they were the Samaritan’s. They are the people who were led astray by King Ahab and his pagan wife Jezebel. A Jewish King and a pagan Queen who encouraged worship of the pagan god Baal. As the Samaritan showed mercy and compassion, Jesus is the mercy and compassion of God that binds wounds, he reaches out and will be crucified for it. Our God is a merciful God, and a God of compassion; sadly man is not.
I wonder how many other questions that academic had for Jesus? He asked good questions.