Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, "Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me." But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. The captain came and said to him, "What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish."
The sailors said to one another, "Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us." So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.Then they said to him, "Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?" "I am a Hebrew," he replied. "I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land."Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, "What is this that you have done!" For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.
Then they said to him, "What shall we do to you, that the sea may quieten down for us?" For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. He said to them, "Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quieten down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you." Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them. Then they cried out to the Lord, "Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man's life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you." So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.
Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish.
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher,;" he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal lie?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, "Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend." Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
In today's gospel a lawyer-theologian poses a problem to Jesus about everlasting life, the deepest and most serious of all theological questions. On hearing the Love-commandment and how we are required to love our neighbour, the theologian asks a question to which he already must know the answer. He asks, "Who is my neighbour?" For an answer Jesus instances the Samaritans, a people who were despised and rejected by Israel as heretics and spoilers of the Torah.
Who would be today's equivalent to this "Samaritan" neighbour? Perhaps those we may hate or look down on, who seem to be ignorant and willfully wrong, who have harmed us or taken advantage of us? "Listen," Jesus says, listen, for they may have something to teach you about how to pray and to follow God's holy will. Listen as they take care of other people in distress. Listen, because we can be so biased and self-righteous, so proud and so orthodox that we miss the signals of wonder and goodness flashed through the darkness to keep us on the course of God's blessed will.
A lawyer asks Jesus two very important questions. First, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" He went on to ask, "Who is my neighbour?" And in response to that second question Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan.
But if you examine it carefully, the parable doesn't really answer the question, "Who is my neighbour?" It answers another question, "Which of these three proved himself a neighbour?" What the parable explains is "What does it mean to be a neighbour?" Jesus implies that it is more important to be a neighbour to others than to define exactly "who is my neighbour?"
We could say that the answer to the lawyer's first question ("What must I do to inherit eternal life?") is "Be a good neighbour." If you want to know what it means to be a neighbour, look at the Samaritan. The priest, the Levite and the Samaritan all noticed the wounded man by the roadside. What distinguished the Samaritan is that he responded to what he noticed. His seeing gave way to compassionate serving. It is the kind of seeing that characterized Jesus himself. His answer to the lawyer's first question is "Be a neighbour in the way that I am."