The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of our Lord’s best known short stories. When a lawyer approaches Jesus inquiring as to who his neighbour is, Jesus directs his attention to what being a good neighbour entails. He paints a portrait of a man who was robbed on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and beaten within an inch of his life. The Priest and the Levite passed by on the other side of the road, because to touch the supposed dead body would have meant exclusion from religious service in the Temple. Their brand of worship was not inspired by the love of neighbour but by religious duty. The unlikely hero of the story turns out to be a Samaritan who acting out of sheer love and generosity instead of a sense of duty, opened his heart and recognised a neighbour even in a despised Jew.
Neighbourliness is not a general attitude of helping those who are good to us, but a matter of being ready to come to the assistance of those in need, even the perfect stranger. There is to be no picking and choosing or limit to the scope of our giving. Nobody is excluded from a claim on our help because we are all God’s children. The story is easily understood and painfully true but difficult to put into practice. It forces us to think about ourselves and to reflect on the quality and quantity of our acts of charity – to ask the question: ‘Are we doing what Jesus would want us to do in his name?’ When it is a matter of putting ourselves out for people we can all find suitable excuses to avoid unpleasant duties and let the opportunity to do good pass by. Our spark of compassion is easily snuffed out as we look the other way. The road from Jericho to Jerusalem runs through our neighbourhood and is strewn with wounded people. There is a world crying out for mercy at our very door. If we are alert and sensitive we can come in contact with people who are lonely, hungry for love and attention, crushed by disappointment and failure, guilt ridden and wounded by sin.
The Good Samaritan represents Jesus Christ who, reaching out in love, came to the rescue of the human race in its pitiful condition and healed our wounds by dying on the cross of Calvary. That act of love cost him his life. He expects us to stop and help those in need even though it will cost us time, trouble and expense. The gospel is at pains to emphasize that there is no love of God without love of neighbour who is in distress.
Fr Peter Tipene