by: Fr. Rodrigue Azanmasso, CJM
The essence in the texts of this Sunday’s liturgy --especially as far as the first reading and the Gospel are related—can be summed up through the question posed to Jesus by the teacher of the law in the Gospel, What shall I do to receive eternal life?.
The Gospel says the teacher of the law asks the question in order to put Jesus to a test. But beyond the deception, this question reveals something deeper about the observance of the law by the Jews and the newness brought by Jesus. Jesus’ way of teaching was so different from the other teachers or Rabbiof his time,that Matthew in his Gospel reported that: He taught as one who had authority and not as the scribes. (Mt 7: 29) Let us remember that this type of question has been asked of Jesus by the rich man in the Gospel according to Mark, (10: 17)Good teacher, what must I do to receive eternal life?The rich man of the Gospel according to Mark hungers and thirsts for more because he himself, taking into account the faithful observance of the law, says, Teacher, ever since I was young I have obeyed all these commandments. (Mk 10: 20) And to sum it all Jesus, in the gospel according to Matthew, (5: 20) says, I tell you, if your uprightness does not surpass that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.
Therefore, for Jesus it is obvious that the strict observance of the law is one step towards eternal life, but a second step is needed. One thing is, to follow the rules, another is get their profound meaning and essence which is generative that is, life giving.
If your uprightness does not surpass that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.
Through the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus invites his interlocutor to broaden his vision of neighborliness, to get rid of his narrow mindedness and to understand that, the commandment to love one's neighbor as one's self must not be interpreted as if it implied that we are to hate our enemy. In this parable, some lawful and justified reasons put the priest and the Levite away from the wounded and desperate man. In the book of Leviticus (21: 1-3), priests are given clear instructions not to touch a dead corpse, and we need to remember that priests are descendants of Aaron and Aaron is from the tribe of the Levites. Priesthood was then for Aaron and his descendants and the rest of the Levites are assigned to the service of the temple. So according to the law, both the priest and the Levite were right to keep away from that man in order to avoid being unclean. The second thing is the question of neighborhood. Who is my neighbor, asks the teacher of the law to Jesus. In the Jewish social structure, the question of neighborliness is crucial, Israel has the self-consciousness of being the chosen people. That particular election allowed them to have the tendency to neglect, despise or condemn those who were not Israelites.
Thus, the neighbor in purely legal terms was a Jew or a proselyte to Judaism. In such circumstance some people were not considered neighbors: the gentiles, the Samaritans; those who cooperate with the Romans invaders,the publicans, or the tax collectors, and those who are said to live a sinful life, the prostitutes for instance.
Who is then my neighbor?
Jesus recounts this parable to show the teacher of the law that, he should go beyond the Jew’s social structure. The parable is intended to show whether there are limits to one’s responsibility and we see Jesus saying that there are no limits in showing love and compassion. Jesus gives a wider interpretation of Leviticus 19: 18:Love your neighbor as you love yourself, by extending the neighborliness to anyone within one’s reach, even your enemy. (Matt 5: 43-48)
The characters were certainly chosen on purpose, because Jesus knew that there was a enmity between Samaritans and Jews and He himself experienced it, while He was about to pass through a Samaritan village, on his way to Jerusalem. (Lk 9: 51-56)
This Samaritan character can be an appeal to each of us to consider formerly the good in everybody, that is to believe that in every human being, even those we think of as our enemies, there is a sparkle of precious godliness.
Like the Samaritan, may we be near or close to anyone, either physically or spiritually, because these are whom God allows us to meet, to touch, and to change!