Reading 1: Deuteronomy 30: 10-14
Psalm 69: 14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37
Reading 2: Colossians 1: 15-20
Gospel: Luke 10: 25-37
“The Good Samaritan,” the common title of the parable in today’s gospel (vv. 29-37), has passed into everyday parlance to designate a person who gratuitously gives help to someone in distress. Sometimes giving help places Good Samaritans at some inconvenience or even risk. Too many people are like the priest and Levite (vv. 31-32); they do not want “to get involved.” To make it less risky for people to become “involved” many states have passed “Good Samaritan laws” that protect “Good Samaritans” from liability if unintended consequences result from their assistance.
The thrust of Jesus’ response to the scholar of the law wished “to justify himself” (v. 29) went beyond advising him to be kind to strangers in need. The identity of the protagonist in the parable as a Samaritan is the key to appreciating the response Jesus offered to the scholar of the law. People familiar with the gospels know that a gulf of misunderstanding, rivalry and even hatred existed between Jews and the Samaritans, but many are not aware of why this is the case.
Both the Samaritans and Jews considered Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be their ancestors. Both Jews and Samaritans spoke the same language, worshiped the same God, held the same books (the five books of Moses) as the foundation of their faith yet they were rivals. Their rivalry went back almost a thousand years. Beginning in the late 10th century BCE, two Israelite kingdoms existed side by side: The Kingdom of Israel in the north of the Holy Land with its capital Samaria and the Kingdom of Judah in the south with its capital Jerusalem. Israel was the larger, wealthier, more powerful of the two. Sometimes the two Israelite kingdoms were allies, but the southern kingdom was always the junior partner.
The Kingdom of Israel fell to the expansionist Assyrian Empire in the 8th century. The Assyrians sent part of the kingdom’s populace into exile and brought in people from elsewhere to settle in the territory of the former Kingdom of Israel. In the 6th century, the Kingdom of Judah fell to the Babylonians. They destroyed the temple of Jerusalem and forced many of Judah’s elite citizens to migrate to Babylon.
When the exiles of Judah were able to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, the people who lived in the territory of the former Kingdom of Israel (the Samaritans) offered to help with the project but were rebuffed by the people of Judah (the Jews; Ezra 4:1-3). The Samaritans then built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim. The Jews thought of the Samaritans as the products of intermarriage with gentiles and, therefore, not authentic Israelites (see 2 Kgs 17:24-41). The rupture became complete and irreparable when the Jews destroyed the Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerizim in the 2nd century.
In our country today, too many people consider immigrants from Central America as drug dealers and rapists, Muslims as terrorists, Jews as economic exploiters, and African-Americans as criminals. Racial, ethnic, and religious stereotypes prevent people from seeing others as human beings. When Jesus told the scholar of the law to “go and do likewise” (v. 37), Jesus was challenging him to break through centuries of prejudice and hatred in order to see a Samaritan as a human being who is capable of a selfless act of love to a person in need. Jesus was not asking the scholar of the law to be a “Good Samaritan.” He was asking him to be a good person.