Who is my neighbor?
On the Fifteenth Sunday, the readings answer the question "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10:25). The first reading Deuteronomy reminds us that God gives us His Commandments in Holy Scriptures, but that they are also written in our hearts, and it is in your mouth, you just need to carry it and obey them (Deuteronomy 3:14).
Moses had led the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt and was with them for many years as they traveled through the Sinai desert. The book of Deuteronomy expresses three discourses largely: The first discourse (1:6-4:43) reflects on the lessons of the early part of the journey through the desert. The second discourse (4:44-28:68) reminds the people of the law, the Ten Commandments, their call to fidelity and their special relationship with God, and the details of the covenant with God and its religious, ritual, and moral regulations. The third discourse (28:68-30:20) issues another call to the people to “choose life” – to remain faithful to the covenant – rather than to choose death by turning away from God and removing themselves from his protection.
Moses knew he would die before entering the Promised Land, so he gave them last words of wisdom. The first reading begins with these words, “If only you would heed the voice of the LORD, your God” (Deuteronomy 30:10). Moses told them that God will bless them greatly, but one condition that they need to follow the voice of the Lord. What do we need to do to inherit eternal life? We need to heed the voice of the law.
In the Gospel, Jesus answers this question. Love God with all your being, mind, heart, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Then Jesus explains the next question who is my neighbor? Jesus illustrates the superiority of love over legalism through the story of the good Samaritan. When the scribe in this passage tries to test him, Jesus engages him in conversation. He praises the scribe for the summary of the law.
The parable of the Good Samaritan presents both a moral and theological lesson. Morally Jesus teaches that love for our neighbor must accompany our love for God. Theologically, Jesus illustrates that the holiness as defined by the Old Covenant is now surpassed by the holiness of the New. In this parable, the priest and Levite didn’t help the victim. They had their own reason. The book of Leviticus 21 explains the purity laws. The book of Numbers 19 gives further explanation of the law of purity. The law priest and Levite (the priests’ associates, who provided music, incense, sacred bread, Temple curtains, and adornments) were forbidden to touch the corpse of anyone other than immediate family members. If they become impure, they are supposed to purify by offering the sacrifice. Also, they will be disqualified for the Temple service. Thus, they saw the wounded man on the road, not as a person needing help, but as a possible source of ritual impurity.
On the other hand, the Samaritan who does typically not mingle with Jews came forward to help the victim. He ignored the long history of enmity between his people and the Jews and opened his heart and mind to help the needy. The Good Samaritan was taking a real risk since the robbers who had assaulted the traveler might still be nearby. But he gave first aid to the wounded Jew, took him to a nearby inn, and made arrangements for his food and accommodations by providing the innkeeper two denarii. Two denarii were two days’ wage which could be enough for several days of lodging.
St. Augustine says the parable signifies Christ’s restoration of mankind. Adam is the man attacked by Satan and his legion; he is stripped of his immortality and left dead in sin. The priest and Levite represent the Old Covenant and its inability to restore man to new life. Jesus Christ comes as the Good Samaritan to rescue man from death and brings him to the inn of the Church for refreshment and healing through the Sacraments.
Who is our neighbor? Are we ready to be neighbors like a good Samaritan? A question to ponder this week.