Apostles Third Sunday

The Good Samaritan. Luke 10:25-37

INTRODUCTION

The parable of the Good Samaritan is a much reflected and influenced story throughout the centuries since Jesus introduced it. Many institutions throughout the world are known with the name “Good Samaritan,” a fictitious character. However, the church fathers presented Jesus himself as a Good Samaritan who risked his life for saving the fallen humanity that was not helped by the teachers of the Law and Prophets of the Old Testament. Jesus who taught us that God seeks mercy than sacrifice (Mathew 9:13) has given us this touching story for a Christian charitable approach to people of all race who need our assistance.

 Bible Text

The Greatest Commandment.
(25) There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (26) Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” (27) 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.” (28) He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

The Parable of the Good Samaritan.
(29) But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  (30) 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. (31) A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. (32) Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. (33) But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. (34) 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. (35) 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.’ (36) Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” (37) He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Interpretation

The Greatest Commandment.

(25) There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

There was a scholar of the law
The scholar of the law does not mean like the regular lawyers of our time who are experts in civil or criminal law. The lawyer who questioned Jesus was an expert in the laws of Moses given in the first five books of the Bible called Torah or Pentateuch. Some identify him as a scribe. The scribe was an expert in the whole Old Testament who used to make copies of the Holy Scripture and served in the synagogues as reader and interpreter of the Bible. The difference between a scribe and scholar of the law is that the scholar of the law was a scribe who specialized in the Mosaic laws than in other sections of the scripture. Such scholars of the Torah were in demand because the whole lives of the Israelites were governed by the written laws and their interpretations.

Who stood up
This gives us a setup of the situation. Jesus might have been preaching in a house like that of Lazarus or in a synagogue. The listeners might have been sitting around him. The scholar stood up to attract the attention of Jesus, the teacher.

To test him
The scholar might have raised the question to Jesus to evaluate his knowledge in the field rather than to improve himself. There are people who raise spiritual or moral questions to religious leaders not to improve their understanding but to evaluate the preacher or to show one’s own expertise in the subject.

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
A rich man also had asked Jesus the same question. (Mark 10:17). The inheritance of eternal life was a controversial issue between Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead (Mark 12:18-27) and Pharisees who believed in life after death. (Acts 23:8). Even for those who believed in the life after death, the question of what must be done to inherit eternal life was not clear.

There were teachings on the life after death in the Old Testament but they were less and some of them were unclear. “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.” (Isiah 26:19). Daniel 12:1-3 is another clear example of the prophesy of the resurrection and final reward or punishment. However, the issue was that these and similar writings on the life after death were prophetic works or psalms, and not in the earlier laws given by Moses in which this scholar of the law was specialized. Moses gave importance to long and fulfilling life in the promised land in Canaan for those who keep the commandments of God. “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12).

It was Jesus who gave more clarity on resurrection of the dead, the final judgement and reward or punishment after death.

(26) Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”

Orthodox Jews used to wear two small square leather boxes containing selected texts from the Torah. They were worn on the wrist of the left arm and on the forehead. Jesus must have been pointing to these phylacteries which the lawyer was wearing when he asked for what was written in the law. When the expert in the law tried to test Jesus, Jesus made the lawyer to answer by asking him a question in turn.

(27) 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.”

This combined passage from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Lev. 19:18 was favorite to Jews and was written on their phylacteries. They used to recite this every day morning and evening. “Take to heart these words which I command you today. Keep repeating them to your children. Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them on your arm as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.” (Deut. 6:6-9). So, Jesus knew that the Jewish lawyer would answer this central message of the Holy Scripture to his question.

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

Jesus had only one thing to add: “do this and you will live” into eternity. Jesus had noticed that though the Jews recited this central theme of the scripture every day twice, they were not practicing it. Mere knowledge or recitation of the law of love of God and neighbors was not sufficient. Religion is not merely for learning but for practicing.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan.

(29) But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Because he wished to justify himself
This could mean the contemporaries of Jesus who ate with him at the house of Zacchaeus, Lazarus or any other location. This also might include those who listened to his preaching in many places. Moreover, it could mean also those who took part in the Eucharistic meal in the church and listed to the Word of God. But there was no Christian outcome in their actions outside the church, especially in their dealing with their family members and community. We being Christians are not enough for selection at the last judgement. We are judged based on the Christian behavior because of our participation in the redemptive mystery of Jesus. 

(30) 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.

Went down from Jerusalem to Jericho
Jesus gives this story based on probable crimes happening on the dangerous way from Jerusalem to Jericho. Within a short distance of 21 miles, a person was traveling down from Jerusalem that is 2,300 feet above sea level to Jericho that is 1,300 feet below sea level. While going down 3,600 feet, the road was narrow, rocky with caves and had sudden turnings. Robbers used to attack the travelers and so the road was nicknamed as “bloody way.”

A man
The victim in the story is a man without any other details like his race, nationality, or class. Jesus gave importance to the suffering man regardless of who he was. He could probably be a Jew because he was on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho.

(31) A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.

A priest
This parable of the Good Samaritan has a priest and a Levite as characters. There is difference in their designation. All priests were Levites, but not all Levites were priests. The Levites descended from the Levi who was one of the 12 sons of Jacob. Before God’s covenant with Israelites at Mount Sinai, all the heads of the families were priests. After the sin of Golden Calf, only the Levites declared faithfulness to God. So, they were selected for divine service at the Holy Place in the tabernacle and later in the Temple of Jerusalem. God selected Aron, the brother of Moses who was also a Levite as the chief priest. His sons and their descendants were priests and high priests.

Going down
The priest was also going from Jerusalem, probably after his priestly duty in the Temple of God. Jericho was the second city of Judea were many priests and Levites lived. So, it was natural that priests and Levites who do the Temple service used to travel back and forth between Jerusalem and Jericho.

He passed by on the opposite side.
The priest used the opposite side of the road for his safety to avoid uncleanliness by touching a dead body if the victim would die. Or he did not want to take the risk of attack from the same robbers. The victim’s dreadful situation was a sure proof of the presence of the robbers there. So, he ran for his safety without caring for the victim.

(32) Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.

The Levite was little more considerate because he looked at the person and understood his situation. Though he felt sympathy, he also did nothing and went on the opposite side for his safety. This kind of approach to those in need has been copied throughout centuries by humanity. Mere sympathy without action for help is also a sin.

(33) But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight.

Samaritan
The Jews would hate Jesus mentioning of Samaritans and presenting a Samaritan traveler as a good man in the parable. There had been historical hostility between Jews and Samaritans. The Samaritans were the occupants of the territory formerly assigned to the tribes of Ephraim and the half-tribe Manasseh. Samaria was its capital. When the Assyrians deported and scattered in captivity the ten tribes of Northern Israel, “The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and settled them in the cities of Samaria in place of the Israelites. They took possession of Samaria and dwelt in its cities.” (2 Kings 17:24). They intermarried the remaining Israelites in the newly occupied area. The pagans who inhabited Samaria continued the worship of their idols. So, God send lions among them that killed some people. King of Assyria sent them an Israelite priest from exile to teach them the worship of the God of the land. They learnt the books of Moses and began to worship the God of Israel but continued their idolatry as well. “They were both venerating the LORD and serving their own gods.” (2 Kings 17:33). Because of this mixed race and mixed worship, the Samaritans were considered “half-breeds” and Jews hated them.

The animosity increased because of several other reasons: (1) When the Jews returned from Babylonian exile and started rebuilding the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem, the Samaritans opposed it and halted it for some time. (Nehemiah 6:1-14). (2) The Samaritans perpetuated their idolatrous worship by building a temple for them on Mount Gerizim. (3) Samaritans offered refuge for all the outlaws of Judea. (Joshua 20:6-7; 21:21). (4) The Samaritans while accepting the Torah, rejected other Jewish scriptures and Jewish traditions. Hence, Jews hated Samaritans and had no contact with them. (John 4:9. 8:48).

Jesus drew a contrasting picture between Jews and Samaritans in the practice of faith. The Samaritan whom Jews hated and considered worthless because of his non-Jewish beliefs and practices became compassionate and helping neighbor for the helpless and suffering Jew.

(34) 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.

Unlike the priest and Levite who passed by on the opposite side avoiding any contact with the victim, the Samaritan expressed his compassion in action. When the priest and the Levite thought of what bad would happen to them if they take care of the victim, the Samaritan thought of what would happen to the victim if he wound not care for him. With this difference in approach, the Samaritan took the risk of being attacked by the robbers who had attacked the victim. The Samaritan spend oil, wine and cloth he had, as first aid for the victim. These were used to heal the sore made by circumcision. Forgetting the Jewish-Samaritan rivalry, he treated the victim as his own. He spent time from his busy life, he provided the service of his ass to carry the victim while he went on foot to the nearby inn and nursed him there. 

(35) 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.’

The next day

The Good Samaritan spent one night with this sick stranger taking care of him in the inn and making sure that he was getting well. Two silver coins during those days was the average wage of a laborer for two days. That was given for the victim’s food, lodging, and medical expenses because he had nothing left with him after the robbery. That amount was more than what was due to the innkeeper. The Good Samaritan was kind enough to meet the expense of the continued treatment of this Jew who might have been one among those who hated Samaritans. This shows that his compassion was not just an ordinary impulse of sympathy. Moreover, it was a generosity from his heart.

Allegorical Interpretation

According to St. Paul, Jesus is the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. 1:24). So, the teachings of Jesus have extraordinary meaning and everlasting relevance. Some of the parables of Jesus have in-depth meaning than the simple message that we understand first. Though parable is a simple story to illustrate a spiritual or moral lesson, some of them have allegorical applications to the salvation history. In an allegory, there will be two levels of meaning. Besides the surface story, there will be a symbolic level with the characters, place and plot match with story of the kingdom of God. The early church fathers have given an allegorical interpretation to the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan has a clear message without an allegorical interpretation. However, an understanding of the allegorical interpretation of this parable can help us realize the message from the perspective of the fall of mankind and redemption of humanity by Jesus as a Good Samaritan. Church fathers like Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Origen in the second century, and Chrysostom, Ambrose and Augustine in the fourth and fifth centuries have given the allegorical interpretation of this parable. According to them, Jerusalem was the paradise and Jericho was the sinful world. Adam was “the man” going down from Jerusalem. The robbers were Satan and his followers. The man was stripped off from his original grace and immortality. The priest is the Law and the Levite the prophets of the Old Testament period. Jesus is the Good Samaritan. The Jews had called Jesus a Samaritan while accusing him: “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and are possessed?” (John 8:48). The oil stand for the anointing with the Holy Spirit and wine for the blood of Jesus he offered for us. The beast is the body of Jesus that carried us to the inn, that is the church. The innkeeper is Apostle Peter and his successors. The promise of Samaritan that he will return to repay stands for the second coming of Christ. We would have been spiritually dead, if Jesus had not come to save us like the Good Samaritan who did not consider the religion or the status of the victim. The ancient Jewish leaders were more concerned about religious rituals and their own welfare than of the people they served. We are called to follow the example of Jesus, the Good Samaritan who sacrificed himself for all humanity who have been perishing from sin.

(36) Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” .”

Instead of giving a direct answer to the scholar of the law who raised the question of who is my neighbor, as an efficient teacher, Jesus let the scholar answer from the parable.

(37) He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Though the lawyer did not like to acknowledge Samaritan as a good neighbor, he was obligated to answer that. He did not say the Samaritan, instead he answered in an indirect way: “The one who treated him with mercy.” Then Jesus commanded the lawyer and other listeners to do as the Samaritan did. That means:

1) We must take initiative in helping those in need and not waiting for them to seek our help.

2) We should spend our time for those who need our care.

3) We need to share the little resources we have like the wine, oil, cloth, means of transportation, and money as the Good Samaritan did.

4) We should even be willing to risk our lives for others. The Good Samaritan could be attacked by the robbers while he was taking care of the victim.

5) We should ask ourselves, what would happen to this man if I did not help him rather than what I would lose if I help him.

 Message

1. God seeks mercy rather than sacrifice. (Hosea 6:6). Religious rituals become meaningful when we show mercy to others based on our love of God and love of neighbors.

2. Any man who is in need is our neighbor. Religion, caste or nationality shall not be criteria for selecting our beneficiaries for support.

3. God sends his help through people who help us like the “Good Samaritan”.  We are also called to be “Good Samaritans” for others.

4. The Old Testament Law, Prophetic teachings and other writings were given for the good of humanity. However, the religious leaders during the public ministry of Jesus had bypassed serving the suffering humanity and gave undue importance to rituals and selfishness. Our reading or study of the Bible should lead us to practice the message of the scripture.

5. Jesus is the Good Samaritan and we are the victims of Satan. Jesus sacrificed all he had including his life to rescue us from the robbery of Satan and admitted us in the inn that is the Church. He will come again to take us with him to a healthy and glorious future. Let us continue to be protected and nourished by the church.