In this missionary month and the week dedicated to the poor, a reflection arises almost instantly in the heart of the missionary. Because if it is true that the poor “preach by their very presence,” it becomes immediately urgent to understand how to encounter this presence and put ourselves at their service. The New Testament is full of indications, as if it were a manual for imitating Christ. Among all of them, the parable of the Samaritan, humanizes the mercy of God and makes it accessible to every human being.
Let us examine it together.
There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
The parabola begins with a test. The test of the believer who asks questions and seeks answers in a constant dialogue with the teacher. If in Mark and Matthew, the same parable sees a doctor of the law who is both a conspirator and an admirer, in Luke we find no such indication, only this need to test if the road taken is the right one.
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.”
Jesus, who is the teacher and knows the heart of every believer, also knows the torments of those who question him. He knows our history and our needs. He knows who we are and that is why he turns the question around and asks the lawyer to answer it. Then, the first miracle happens, because the lawyer reveals himself for what he really is: an expert in God’s law, a seeker of the spirit, a man who is trying to answer the call. In fact, our protagonist combines two verses of the Bible as if they were one.
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength” is, in fact, a commandment of Deuteronomy (6:5), while “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” belongs to another book, Leviticus (19:18). The scribe replies, through his discernment, knowing that he has come to a great truth: we cannot love God without loving our neighbor. God resides in the other. By loving each other with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, with our whole mind and as if it were I, we will love the Lord.
Jesus, who knows, congratulates the scribe. He validates the new commandment.
But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
However, the scribe still has doubts. He notices that Jesus did not use just any word. He said “neighbor,” he did not say “to your brother,” “to your enemy,” “to others.” This is why the scribe asks for an explanation. The scribe knows the scriptures. He has studied them and has invested his entire life trying to figure out their mysteries. The scribe knows that there are two currents of thought on the concept of neighbor: the juridical one that distinguishes various types of foreigners and that places the “neighbor” a little below the generic “others” and the universalistic one that traces respect to the common origin of all humanity from one God. However, Jesus does not answer by siding with one side or the other. Jesus tells a parable and perturbs everyone.
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.
From the beginning, Jesus already amazes us because he sets the scene on the road. The road is a place of passage, a space designed to be experienced quickly with the mind on the goal. A place that “distracts” from the rest, because we are focused on crossing it, on the urgency of arriving. What happens in this space of movement? A man is attacked and is dying. That dying man will, perhaps, have lost faith in humanity. It is interesting that Jesus places us before a wound that is not only physical, but also can be psychic. If he survives, how can he still trust the other?
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.
Here we have two figures representing what was sacred at the time of Jesus: a priest and a Levite. Both, for reasons of rank, had the obligation to remain pure in order to celebrate the rites of the temple. At that time, remaining pure meant keeping strict ritual rules. Touching blood or a corpse meant becoming impure and not being able to officiate rituals for at least seven days. Without wishing to justify these archetypes of the sacred, the two characters are two figures who move quickly toward their destination and, during their journey, are horrified at the thought of contamination and not being able to fulfill their task. Saint Vincent would remind people like them to “leave God for God.”
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.’
Here Christ causes a revolution. He destroys our laws and introduces us to the law of God, to the ultimate call, to our vocation as children of the Father. For the Samaritan is not just any character. The Samaritan is the most despised of all. He is not a simple outcast, but a hated person, because he is impure, pagan, and schismatic. The Samaritans in fact, in a fit of syncretism, built an alternative temple to that of Jerusalem in which impure priests officiated. Yet Christ tells us that salvation can come from them, from the foreigner, hated, rejected, and isolated. Why? For even the foreigner, like all of us, can be moved to compassion. In reality, the term that the gospel uses is esplanchniste, which means “the guts moved.” The Samaritan performs many gestures that teach us still today. First of all, stop and look. We are always in a hurry for one reason or another and we do not see or cannot stop. He sees and stops. He stops and listens. God also speaks through his body. Those guts that move are that suffering with the other. We are one mystical body and the pain of the other is my pain too. The Samaritan also does something else that seems unthinkable today: he takes responsibility for his actions. In a world where charity has come within reach by “clicks,” the Samaritan does not delegate the care of the other, but dismounts his horse and takes charge of the afflicted man. Here we return to the beginning of our parable. Imagine the man who was attacked waking up the next day in an inn, safe and sound. Imagine him asking what happened and imagine his astonishment when he learns that a foreigner, whom he too may have hated, rescued him. An anonymous Samaritan, who carried out a gesture of mercy, perhaps will heal that mistrust in humanity caused by attacking bandits. Here Jesus confronts us with two great truths: that we are all bearers of salvation and that our anonymity will not be such in the eyes of God, but it is necessary in the eyes of men so as not to produce that dependence that beneficence makes between benefactor and beneficiary.
“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.”
The parable concludes with an invitation to mission. Jesus does not give any definition of “neighbor,” but he says to go, stop, listen to the merciful voice of God, which acts within us and to assume our responsibilities as children of God. Jesus explains how to recognize, from time to time, our neighbor, because only through the sorrow of this afflicted person can we love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind.