By Deacon Thomas G. Davis
When I was in high school I had a history teacher that had the great ability to convey his love of history to his students. Since that time I have developed a love for the subject, especially American history.
America, since the first settlers came to our shores, has and continues to be a melting pot of many different nationalities. Many of these settlers came to America to make a better life for themselves, but in the process suffered a great deal of discrimination. Many of the people who were at the root of the discrimination would not consider the settlers to be their neighbors.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is tested by a person knowledgeable in the law when He was asked: “What must he do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus has the scholar answer his own question, offering this understanding of what is written in the law: “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 is the prayer that devout Jewish people say every day, The Shema. The scholar, trying to justify himself, asks, “And who is my neighbor?” In answering, Jesus tests the scholar – and all of us – with the parable of the Good Samaritan.
First, a little background. The road on which this took place was the major road that went from Jerusalem to Jericho, or approximately a distance of 17 miles. This road was not the safest road to travel. It was what we would term today a high-crime area.
Jesus sets the scene with a man, possibly of Jewish background, being beaten and probably robbed and left to die. Three men travelling this road see the victim. One is a Levite. He served in the Temple in Jerusalem, but probably lived in Jericho. A priest also is making the same journey. Why didn’t they stop? The Schema would seem to dictate that both of them should. But the Jewish law would have viewed them as unclean if they helped the beaten and probably bleeding man. This would mean that they could not take part in the temple rituals until they went through the required ritual purification.
The Samaritan, to the Jewish people, was first of all considered to be unclean. They would not have anything to do with the Samaritans. But he is the one who stops. He is the one who takes care of the beaten man, and he is the one who pays an innkeeper to take care of the man until he returns. He also promises to pay for any care the man needed above and beyond what he had left.
Jesus then poses the question to the scholar regarding who of the three was the neighbor to the victim? The scholar’s response is interesting because he will not say “the Samaritan,” but rather “The one who treated him with mercy.”
This parable has a great deal of meaning for each of us. As I said in the beginning, America is a melting pot of many varied people of all different backgrounds. Some suffered greatly, but were eventually accepted. Others to this day are still suffering from prejudice and indifference. We can only pray that someday we will live in a world free of those prejudices and indifference.
In the meantime, we can be an example of love and mercy to all those with whom we come in contact. They are our neighbors; they are children of God just as much as we are. Maybe someday we may need that love and mercy shown to us in our need.
Readings for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 69: 14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37 or Psalm 19: 8, 9, 10, 11
Colossians 1: 15-20
Luke 10: 25-37
Deacon Thomas G. Davis is a permanent deacon who serves at St. Anselm Church, Bay Ridge.