Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan may be the most challenging short story


Today’s readings draw us directly into a comparison of the law which Jesus preached and the law which ‘pleases human beings’. In the first reading, St Paul’s berating of the Galatians could also be directed at the institutional evil in our world today. In a curious paradox we see the human law that facilitates material wealth actually brings poverty to many, whereas in following Jesus’ law we satisfy our human needs for love, acceptance and growth. Human choices often bring suffering: God’s ways bring joy and peace.
The Gospel from Luke tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus told this parable to show how wide God’s love and mercy is towards every fellow human being. Just before Jesus tells this parable, a scribe approaches Him with two questions. First he asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers with another question: “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” The scribe goes on to answer his own question, which Jesus confirms as correct. Eternal life is determined by one’s complete and absolute love of God and love of neighbor.

The scribe then asks a second question: “And who is my neighbor?” Again Jesus answers with another question, at the close the parable of the Good Samaritan: “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” The scribe again answers correctly: “The one who treated him with mercy.”

I read this somewhere as a background for this parable. “Jesus’ story of a brutal highway robbery was all too familiar to His audience. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho went through a narrow winding valley surrounded by steep rocky cliffs. Many wealthy Jews from Jerusalem had winter homes in Jerico. This narrow highway was dangerous and notorious for its robbers who could easily ambush their victim and escape into the hills. No one in his right mind would think of traveling through this dangerous highway alone. It was far safer to travel with others for protection and defense.”

What does Jesus’ story tell us about true love for one’s neighbor? First, we must be willing to help even if others brought trouble on themselves through their own fault or negligence. Second, our love and concern to help others in need must be practical. Good intentions and showing pity, or empathizing with others, are not enough. And lastly, our love for others must be as wide and as inclusive as God’s love. God excludes no one from His care and concern. God’s love is unconditional. So we must be ready to do good to others for their sake, just as God is good to us. Jesus not only taught God’s way of love, but He showed how far God was willing to go to share in our suffering and to restore us to wholeness of life and happiness.

In this instance, the scribe was testing Jesus and trying to justify himself. Although we are not testing the Lord, we too, in our own prayerful conversations with Him, might tend to ask a number of questions. If instead we simply let Jesus ask us, “How do you read it?” or “What is your opinion?” we might, like the scribe in today’s Gospel, find ourselves answering our own questions, and answering them satisfactorily.

Often we assume that the answer to our concerns, problems, and perplexities is something very difficult and complex, something beyond our ability to grasp, something requiring God’s clear guidance and direction. Sometimes this might actually be the case. Yet, probably more often than we think, the answer simply and clearly lies within us. Still, we need Jesus, who desires that we always come to Him in prayer, no matter what our needs might be, to remind us of that.

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