Today for our Gospel reading we are given the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus tells the young man who inquires how he might be justified that he should love God and his neighbour. I don’t know if he was trying to be smart or what but the young man asks, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ This gives Jesus the opportunity to tell the parable about the Good Samaritan.
This parable is unique to the Gospel of Luke and it is most interesting. The man is beaten up and robbed by brigands. We are not told that he was a Jew but it is a fair presumption that he was and so we would expect that his co-religionists would help him especially given the fact that both the priest and the Levite had religious functions.
The Levites were, of course, from the tribe of Levi and they were given certain duties in the Temple such as singing, supporting the liturgy, acting as guards and performing other duties. As a result, they were financially supported by other Jews who were obliged to give them a tithe. The priests were also Levites but ones who were directly descended from the very first priest, Aaron. Their task was to perform the sacrifices in the Temple. Although their liturgical function died out with the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in AD70 they are still around. You can identify them because today they all have the surname Cohen.
It is interesting to note that both the man who was attacked as well as the priest and the Levite were going down from the city of Jerusalem which you will know was at the top of a long hill. The priest and the Levite had therefore completed their period of duty in the Temple and were returning home. One would ordinarily assume that after serving God in the Temple which necessarily involved prayer they would be in the right frame of mind to help their fellow man but seemingly this is not necessarily so.
I used to be parish priest in a Church with a car park. As there were many masses the car park was often crowded with vehicles going in and out. Frequently parishioners got blocked in by other thoughtless drivers and often got very irate, sometimes expressing their annoyance in quite inappropriate ways. I would have thought that spending an hour at mass and in prayer ought to have made them a bit more understanding, but clearly this was not always the case.
We need to be on our guard against this sort of thing. Coming to mass ought to make us better people. It should make us more patient and understanding. We should leave the Church thinking better of our fellow man. We ought to leave Church as politer and kinder and gentler human beings. The same goes for those thoughtless parkers who blocked the other people in. They ought to have realised the consequences of their inconsiderateness.
In his parable Jesus stresses that the man who was filled with care and concern for the injured man was a Samaritan. The Jews regarded the Samaritans as a heretical sect. The rift between these two groups arose at the time of the Babylonian Captivity. The Samaritans who were descended from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh were not taken into captivity and claim that they preserved the ancient religion of Israel. The rest of the Jews who were taken to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar were forced to adapt their religion to their new circumstances. After seventy years when they returned to Israel they found that they had little in common with the Samaritans and shunned them.
As is often the case, when two groups are very closely related there can be intense hatred between them. Ironically, the Jews were probably less hostile towards out-and-out pagans than they were to their Samaritan brothers. So, by telling the young man that it was a Samaritan who helped the poor victim Jesus was making a very strong point. Interestingly, Jesus gives no further explanation. He just asks who was the better neighbour and the young man answers that it was the one who took pity on him. Then without saying another word Jesus moves on to the house of Martha and Mary. He leaves the young man to reflect on the parable and to make his own decisions as to how to conduct his life.
The true Christian is someone who is always looking out for his neighbour. But we have to be careful here, we ought not to overcrowd our neighbours or place heavy expectations on them. We ought to be charitable and kind but still leave them plenty of space and the freedom to make their own choices. There is a type of kindness that can be stifling and we ought to be on our guard against anything like that. We need to respect the autonomy of others and show them a healthy respect. Anything that is condescending or patronising is inappropriate.
There are a lot of people who do a lot to support charities; maybe they give to Aid Agencies or to the blind or to cancer research or the Lifeboats. Maybe they give a few hours of their time to work in a charity shop or something similar. And this is very good but the only problem is that it at one remove. We are working through intermediaries, through agencies or organisations who are doing the direct help.
It is no good signing a banker’s order for £10 a month to some charity if you ignore the actual needs of real people on your own doorstep. We have to be very careful though when we decide to help other people directly because although they may not be well-off, they still have their own pride and often don’t want to be seen as a charity case. Often what people need is not money but kindness and practical assistance. An old lady might need someone to help her with her shopping. Someone else might just need cheering up. A big family might need someone to listen to the children reading. The school might need someone to give practical assistance in lessons or with fundraising.
The Good Samaritan bandaged the poor man’s wounds and got him to an inn where he could be looked after. The Good Samaritan realised that we are all connected and that if I help you today you will most likely need to help me the day after or at some more distant point in the future. What is needed is care and concern, what is needed is goodness and kindness, what is needed is a true and authentic love for our fellow human beings.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket