Three Thoughts on Sunday’s Gospel: The Good Samaritan

This Sunday’s Gospel passage is an all-time classic: the story of the Good Samaritan.

There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said,
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law?
How do you read it?”
He said in reply,
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.”

He replied to him, “You have answered correctly;
do this and you will live.”

But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus,
“And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied,
“A man fell victim to robbers
as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.
They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.
A priest happened to be going down that road,
but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
Likewise a Levite came to the place,
and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
But a Samaritan traveler who 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.
The next day he took out two silver coins
and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction,
‘Take care of him.
If you spend more than what I have given you,
I shall repay you on my way back.’
Which of these three, in your opinion,
was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?”
He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Here are three thoughts on this important passage:

1) This passage sends us out…

I watched a webinar yesterday with Jack Jezreel, founder of JustFaith Ministries, which offers the best Catholic social teaching formation programs in the world. Jack loves to talk about the two major functions of parishes, which he derives from the ministry of Christ: gathering and sending. Our churches gather people in for liturgy and prayer, education and formation, social events, and more. We often spend most of our time and resources on these gatherings. But parishes are also meant to send us out to live the Gospel mission in the world, especially with and for those who are most vulnerable in society.

We’re not always that great at sending. Jack wonders what it would look like if we spent half our parish budgets, half our buildings, half our time, half our parish staffs on gathering, and precisely half on sending people out.

This passage is one of the best examples of “sending-out Scripture.” Jesus gathers his followers and other interested folks, gives a striking example of what it means to love your neighbor, and then tells them to get moving: “Go and do likewise.”

2) …to get uncomfortable…

The love Jesus describes in the story is not easy or comfortable. It is inconvenient, dirty, sweaty, expensive, and without immediate reward. And it is exactly this type of love that should characterize Christ’s followers. We have so many examples in our tradition of this type of love: St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, St. Damien of Molokai, more and more. Jack Jezreel points out that if our churches emphasize sending in the spirit of the Good Samaritan story, people will be compelled to voluntarily displace themselves to spend time with those who are poor and marginalized.

Good Samaritan love also calls us to work to change the structures in our world that perpetuate injustice. Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about this aspect of the story:

On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

3) …and to look for God in the unlikeliest people and places.

In first-century Palestine, Samaritans and Jews were enemies. For a Jewish audience, the idea of a “Good Samaritan” would’ve been unthinkable. Jesus’ intentional usage of a Samaritan in the story, especially after the willful neglect displayed by the Jewish religious leaders who pass by the beaten man, encourages his followers to overcome prejudices and see the face of God in all people. The radical love and service Jesus calls for breaks down barriers and dismisses nobody.

May God give us the courage to take the Good Samaritan story seriously.

This post is also featured on the website The Ampersand for the Diocese of Camden Life & Justice Ministries.