A Chance of Fate for Our Roles to Change

07-10-2022Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

We often “take for granted” whoever or whatever is around us. We tend to think that whatever some-one else has, be it a person or a thing or many things, we think whatever they have always is far better. We often yearn for what we cannot have or cannot reach for in our own lives. What is very distant or impossible to reach is quite exotic and desirable, and whatever or whoever is in our lives is to be pre-sumed upon or just is not noteworthy. This perspective greatly affects our lives and we do not usually recognize that this is a problem for us.

In our Gospel passage, Jesus answered the lawyer who asked a question with a question of His own. It was a rather “soft ball” question that came straight out of the Jewish scriptures. We know that Jesus knew the answer, but the question He asked in return was most important to be asked at this point. We also realize that the lawyer knew the answer too. The part of the answer which was about loving God came from the Book of Deuteronomy, which is often called the “second law” for the Jews. The second part of the answer is derived from the Book of Leviticus. This book illustrates quite precisely the many, many details of the myriad sacrificial and ritual laws prescribed for the priestly tribe of Levi. When the lawyer continues his questioning of Jesus by asking the great question “And Who is my neighbor?”, we realize that the lawyer thought he was smarter than Jesus and could show Him up. The story Jesus gives as an answer to the question is really too much for most of the Jews to accept. They could never believe such good things of a Samaritan. They hated the Samaritans with a fiery and religious hate. They especially hated that these non-Jews prevented the Jews themselves from an easy route between the northern part of Israel and the southern part. The journey between northern Israel and the South in either direction was very long and difficult because of the Samaritans; the Northern Jews could not easily attend worship at the Temple in Jerusalem.

Jesus makes the hero of his story of “who is my neighbor” a Samaritan, a truly hated figure. This unex-pected hero helps his “enemy” the suffering and almost dead Jew who was stretched out at the edge of the road. In fact, the people who are most approved of by the Jews, their own people, fail to stop and help the beaten man at all.

So Jesus also gets to ask the most important question after He finishes His story. The question is now poignant and powerful. Note also how the lawyer could not use the word “Samaritan” to answer Jesus but did say it was the one who showed mercy. Thus Jesus tells him, the people there, and actually, all of us who follow Him to “To go and do likewise.”

In addition, as a preparation thought to our Gospel message our first reading this weekend reminds us that the Law of Moses is not just written down, but it is within our hearts. Moses’ farewell speech, which is essentially in various ways the content of the Book of Deuteronomy, tells us the law of God is heard in our hearts and we do not need to go and consult written laws. I am certain that this causes some offense not only to civil lawyers, but also church canon lawyers. This insight when we reflect up-on the Story of the Good Samaritan should help us to understand and accept that everyone is our neighbor, and in a special and more important way those we dislike, disapprove of or despise.

Sometimes we are the Good Samaritans in life and sometimes we are the victim on the road. It takes but a moment and a chance of fate for our roles to change. So I suggest that all of us should be the Good Samaritans whenever and wherever possible.