Friday, May 29, 2009

The Good Samaritan

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

- Luke 10:25-37

The parable of the Good Samaritan occurs only in Luke. I see these illustrative parables as teachings to further prepare those who will follow Jesus after he is gone. As we have seen in the past few readings, Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem; from that point on in his ministry (including today's readings) we are in the journey toward Jerusalem and the Passion. Consequently, in my view, we see the Seventy sent out with instructions on what it is to be a disciple and apostle, and here we have this parable of the Good Samaritan.

The questioner (a lawyer) begins by asking, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus answers with a question, seemingly knowing that the lawyer has the answer already. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself." This is the correct answer, of course. But then there's a little trick to these rules. The lawyer asks, "And who is my neighbor?" So Jesus' answer is the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Of course, the Samaritan is symbolic for the outsider (even a person of the presumed enemy) - the last person to be considered "neighbor." Those who pass by are those even bound by law to righteousness: a priest and a Levite, an official helper in the temple. But it is the Samaritan who recognizes one who is in need, and who goes the extra mile to care for a helpless victim. Which of these three was the neighbor to the victim of the thieves? "He who showed mercy on him." Jesus says, "Go and do likewise."

There are many ways of interpreting this parable. I suppose in a particularly transcendent sense we are to understand relationship in the kingdom this way. Those who minister are acting as neighbors - it does not matter necessarily what the need is. But since this is Luke our Physician who includes this parable in his gospel, it's important that we understand the metaphor of healing for the work of the kingdom itself. Righteousness, or right-relatedness, is also setting something right. We heal the woundedness in others by ministering to them. What evil takes away (the thieves), ministry restores. All of these things act consistently in the metaphor of healing. So, for those in the kingdom, ministry is an act of healing and restoring right relatedness - we all can act through mercy to restore our neighbor after a wound. And the thieves of course are symbolic of the evil in the world.

As we practice our faith, I think the great St. Luke the Physician is teaching us what it is to truly minister, to restore, to heal. It is through mercy that we ourselves can all choose to become the true neighbor. And again we remember this word for mercy in the Greek, eleos, and its relationship to the word for olive oil, the traditional base for all ointment for healing. When we find a need that asks of us love and compassion, we should remember that whatever we do, it should be done with the understanding that we seek to heal whatever ails. Our compassion itself, I find, is often the healing balm itself. Just knowing that someone else has taken the time to simply care can make all the difference in the world to restore someone who is failing through despair and isolation and their sense of abandonment.

So here we are still with our Physician who is teaching us what it means to be a neighbor and a healer - to be a part of that kingdom. Our efforts may not be perfect but this is not the real question. The real question is whether or not we've got the compassion and the mercy. The one who needs restoration may simply need just that balm - and we will have been a true neighbor.

No comments:

Post a Comment