Readings (Year C):
Reflection: Who are you in the parable?
Who is the Good Samaritan? When I ask my students, they usually say “the guy who helps,” or “a good guy.” Virtually everyone knows the story. Yet we often fail to hear the depth of the parable’s call.
Parables, notes Jewish New Testament scholar A.J. Levine, “are meant to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” Here, a scholar of the law challenges Jesus: “And who is my neighbor?” The scholar seems to be trying to catch Jesus while also getting Jesus to let him off the hook. Jesus answers by placing us on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho where a man has been robbed, beaten, and left half dead.
A priest and a Levite, two devoutly religious men, “saw him” and “passed by on the opposite side.” But a Samaritan, “moved with compassion” stops and cares for him, using what little money he had for his journey. Which of the three was neighbor to the robbers’ victim? The one who treated him with mercy.
But there is more to the story. When we listen to Jesus’s parables, it is usually clear who he is targeting. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, however, we are challenged to reflect on where we fit. Pope Francis touches on this in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti.
The Jesuits have a prayer practice called the examen, where one reflects upon the presence of God in one’s day. The Parable of the Good Samaritan invites us to ask: where am I in this story today? If we are honest with ourselves, we recognize that we inhabit all the characters’ roles.
Here are four questions to guide us through the parable:
- When have I been like the scholar of the law, avoiding seeing others as my neighbor? It is a call, notes Pope Francis, “to acknowledge that we are constantly tempted to ignore others, especially the weak.” It is a recognition, in humility, that we often brush off the needs of others.
- When might I have been like the priest and the Levite, certain that I know what the Lord is asking of me, even as I treat my neighbor with indifference? Fratelli Tutti reminds us that “belief in God and the worship of God are not enough to ensure we are actually living in a way pleasing to God.”
- When have I been the wounded person in need of care? We are all called to accept our own vulnerability. Are we prepared to accept compassion from someone we see as “other’? From our enemy?
- When have I seen my brothers and sisters, and like the Samaritan, been moved with compassion to “be a neighbor to others.”
We are invited to recognize the humility of our own finitude, reject the indifference and fear of the bystander, and embrace the compassion and solidarity of the Samaritan. And, so, we find ourselves faced with Moses’s call in Deuteronomy, to follow the Lord’s commandments, which are not “too mysterious or remote” but “very near” in our hearts and minds.