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The common perception of Samaritans in the first century
The Northern Kingdom refused to worship at
Against this historical perspective, this morning’s Gospel has Jesus obtaining the full attention of His audience by teaching a parable that portrays a despised Samaritan in a favorable light. A Pharisee would not be at all surprised that the priest and Levite ignored the wounded man as they were both Sadducees and rigidly adhered to ritual law. The Mosaic oral law believed and taught by the Pharisees required full human dignity and respect to every individual until the moment of death. Then they were to be given a burial. All ritual to the contrary was deemed secondary. To the Pharisees, people were more important than task. Under these circumstances, a Pharisee would expect to be the hero of this parable by Jesus. Instead, it is a Samaritan, an outsider, who holds the same ritualistic outlook on life as did the Sadducee.
Each of the Synoptic Gospels include the opening narrative of Jesus discussing with the scribes and Pharisees, one of which was a lawyer, concerning the great commandment. There were no disagreements here. In
The usual rabbinic understanding of neighbor would be to “love your fellow Jew” – members of your immediate local community with extension to members of the greater nation. Love those who love you and are like you. “One rabbinic saying ruled that there was no need to regard heretics, informers and apostates as neighbors.” Samaritans clearly fell into a group that could be excluded as neighbors.
While the Jews clearly had no love for the Samaritans, it was equally true that the Samaritans had no great love or concern for the Jews either. St. Luke, in writing to a gentile church, is the only Gospel writer to include this parable of the Good Samaritan that joins together people who have little in common and generally mix as well as oil and water. Jesus teaches us that the Samaritan essentially repents of his ritualistic beliefs, responds to the need God has placed before him, and had compassion on the beaten man. In doing so, he put aside all the reasons to continue uninterrupted on his journey. By his actions, the Samaritan took quite a risk. He was a hated foreigner in uncomfortable proximity to a beaten and near dead man, easily subject to being accused as the perpetrator of the crime. Instead, he tacitly chose to be a neighbor to someone who would consciously reject him as a neighbor. Even the exacting lawyer interrogating Jesus responded that the Samaritan showed mercy – one of the attributes of God.
Perhaps the most difficult part of all is that Jesus tells the lawyer in this morning’s Gospel, and us by extension, (Lk 10:37) “Go, and do thou likewise.” This is not a one-time admonition in the New Testament. Rather, it is the heart of mission to which God has called His Church. Quote, (Mt 5:44) “But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
Think how difficult it must be for the Coptic Christians in Egypt to watch mobs destroy their churches and not give in to the temptation to strike back, or how long-suffering the Christians in Syria are called to be, as their nation is torn apart in civil strife. The same could be said for Bishop Wilson in the
May God enable us through the Holy Spirit to truly love our neighbors as ourselves, and “Grant, we beseech thee, that we may so faithfully serve thee in this life, that we fail not to attain thy heavenly promises; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 Joachim Jeremias. The Parables of Jesus. Trans S.H. Hook SCM Press,