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Who Do You Say That I Am? - Part 40

XL. Given the expanse of the parables, Benedict focuses on three of them from Luke’s Gospel: the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the rich man and Lazarus.

The Good Samaritan is Jesus’ answer to a fundamental question put to Him: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). Jesus turns the question back to the other, a scholar of the Law, who (as Luke tells us) is asking it only to put Jesus to the test. The scholar answers correctly from Scripture: to love God and love your neighbor. To save face, then, he asks Jesus: “And who is my neighbor?”

So the parable is ultimately an answer to these two interwoven questions, illustrating how love of God is enacted in part through love of neighbor, and my “neighbor” is whoever is right in front me, in need. In this way, and through the central figure of the Samaritan (who would have been considered an outcast and inferior to His Jewish hearers), Jesus expands the customary idea that “neighbor” is more than kin or nation into a universal concern for all.

The details of the story, so familiar to us, show Jesus’ mastery. The assault on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was perfectly realistic and a regular occurrence on that road. The priest and Levite who come upon the victim hurry by – as Benedict says, “there is no need to suppose that they were especially cold-hearted people; perhaps they were afraid themselves … or perhaps inexpert and did not know how to help the man – especially since it looked as though he was quite beyond help anyway” (p. 196).

The Samaritan does not consider the limits of his obligations or whether this will merit eternal life; he simply responds with compassion. The Gospel uses the Hebrew word that refers to the maternal womb and motherly care – in other words, his response is a visceral call to help the helpless one. “Struck in his soul by a lightning flash of mercy, he himself now becomes a neighbor, heedless of any question or danger” (p. 197). Jesus has turned the question from “who is my neighbor?” to “who am I to be neighbor to?” In other words, the parable asks not about other people; it’s about me.

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