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The Good Samaritan

  • International
  • October 8, 2012
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The parable of the Good Samaritan in today’s Gospel is probably the most famous parable of them all. The word ‘Samaritan’ has passed into common usage and its meaning – someone who helps another – is known to thousands who have never opened a Gospel in their lives.

The parable is actually an illustration Jesus used to answer a difficult question.

Jesus was quizzed by someone learned in the Jewish Law. “Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The unstated premise of this question was the Jewish belief that the Law itself was the way to eternal life, through its every rule and regulation. So when Jesus replies, “How do you read the Law?”, the lawyer answers: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind…and love your neighbour as yourself.”

Jesus commends the man for his answer, and affirms its truth. But the lawyer, shrewd as ever, presses on. “But who is my neighbour ?”

So Jesus tells his listeners the story of the traveler who was attacked by bandits on a lonely road, stripped of all his possessions and left for dead. A Jewish priest and a Levite pass him by at the roadside, but go their way unheeding. Then comes a Samaritan – Jews and Samaritans were traditionally hostile to each other – who sees the wounded man, has pity on him, tends his wounds, lifts him on his mount and takes him along to the nearest roadside inn, where he persuades the innkeeper to keep the injured man until he recovers. He gives the innkeeper enough money to see to the man’s needs, before departing himself.

“Which of the three passersby showed himself a neighbour to the wounded man?” asked Jesus. “The one who showed him kindness,” was the lawyer’s reply.

Jesus’s final word: “Go, and do as he did.”

Traditionally humankind defined its neighbours as those related by kinship and bonding. Enemies were ‘outsiders’, those to whom no such obligation existed. Jesus changes this equation radically. “Neighbourliness is not defined anymore by how close we are to someone,” said Pastor Bonhoeffer. “It is defined by whoever has need of us.” Wherever there is need, there lies my neighbour, and in serving him or her with love, I am in fact loving God.

Jesus could not be more clear: this is the way to eternal life.
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