The familiar and much-loved parable of the Good Samaritan which Jesus tells in our gospel this Sunday has timeless value. Countless individuals and groups have interpreted and re-interpreted the story to suit their own culture and times. The wounded man, left for dead and ignored by the priest and Levite in turn, has been cast and re-cast to suit each generation’s example of the marginalized and despised: ethnic minority, AIDS victim, leper, tramp, take your pick. Which category of society inspires us most with dread and revulsion? They become the challenge to the Christian of the day to show mercy on them, as the Samaritan does on the half-dead Jew in the parable.
Behind this story is the culture of animosity felt between Jews and Samaritans in the time of Jesus. Occupying the same country, they nonetheless despised each other. They had their own creed, their own place of worship, their own expectation of a Savior, and rejected their fellow country-men’s version of these. Only a couple of Sundays ago, Luke’s gospel told us the story of Jesus and the disciples making their way to Jerusalem and being chased out of a town in Samaria because the people there knew they were going to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem, instead of at their own place of worship. The apostles James and John want to call down fire from heaven to destroy the town, yet it was they who are rebuked by Jesus, not the Samaritans. Jesus shows time and again his openness and welcome to Samaritans which would have upset and challenged his disciples in their Jewish xenophobia. And this parable of the Good Samaritan would have been the icing on the cake as far as they were concerned. Note how the lawyer in the gospel passage this Sunday cannot bring himself to even say the word “Samaritan” in answer to Jesus’ question as to who proved the neighbour in his parable. He can barely get out the words :The one, I suppose, who showed him mercy,” no doubt through gritted teeth!!
And so this parable of the Good Samaritan challenges us, once again, to re-examine our deeply-ingrained prejudices and ask ourselves, ‘Which group or individual do I instinctively shy away from , in disgust or fear or suspicion? In this Year of Mercy especially, Jesus invites us to move beyond the limits of our own cultural discrimination to prove neighbour to those in any kind of need.