Moses said to the people: "When you obey the Lord your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.
This is my prayer to you,
my prayer for your favour.
In your great love, answer me, O God,
with your help that never fails:
Lord, answer, for your love is kind;
in your compassion, turn towards me. (R./)
As for me in my poverty and pain
let your help, O God, lift me up.
I will praise God's name with a song;
I will glorify him with thanksgiving. (R./)
The poor when they see it will be glad
and God-seeking hearts will revive;
for the Lord listens to the needy
and does not spurn his servants in their chains. (R./)
For God will bring help to Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah.
The sons of his servants shall inherit it;
those who love his name shall dwell there. (R./)
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-all things have been created through him and for him.
He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
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."
Chesterton once wrote that the English secularised culture of his day retained, in spite of everything, values which were rooted in Christianity. One such value must surely be that of the good Samaritan. It was in England that the Samaritans were founded, as a movement to help people in trouble. The enduring impact of Jesus' parable of the "Good Samaritan" is all the more extraordinary when we remember that for the Jews the Samaritans were anything but good. What does the parable mean for us here and now? Jesus used it to illustrate the most important quality he wants in his followers. It was his answer to a specific question: "Who is my neighbour?" The answer is that everyone without exception, must be treated with love and respect.
We might wonder what the Samaritan had to gain personally from doing this act of charity. The answer, in material terms, is precisely nothing. Love that is really and truly love, is disinterested. What merit is there in being good only to our friends, who will reward us in return, should the need arise? Christian love must be more inclusive than that. Furthermore, if we do not show love to the neighbour whom we see, then no matter what commandments we keep, what ritual sacrifices we join in, as did the priest and Levite in the parable, we become incapable of loving the God we cannot see. If we join in the Eucharistic meal and receive God's Son into our hearts, we must first cleanse our heart of hatred, bitterness, ill-will, because the God we receive in this sacrament is love.
The text of Deuteronomy today shows how the Jews treasured the Mosaic Law, the Torah, as the direct communication of God's will. Here, as in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins from the Old Testament teaching of love, and then adds to it. The parable of the Good Samaritan will obviously be the centerpiece of the homily this weekend. The best service we can do is to help the worshippers hear the story afresh. They should feel some surprise at the identity of the hero, a Samaritan. These were the outcasts in first-century Palestine. Since Samaritans had intermarried with the occupying Assyrians eight centuries before, the Samaritans were considered a mongrel breed. And because they conducted a competing temple worship on Mount Gerizim (see Jn. 4:20-22), theirs was considered a corrupt form of Judaism. For a Samaritan to help an injured Jew at the roadside would have been an act of unexplainable compassion.
Some social analogy may help here. Clarence Jordan located the scene in the southern U.S.A. and makes it a story about a black man aiding a white victim. The point is to find a social parallel which will bring this story home to one's own congregation. Note the significant shift between the lawyer's question "Who is my neighbour?" and Jesus' question at the end of the parable: "Which of them proved neighbour to the victim?" The lawyer wants a definition that will comfortably limit his duty of helping others. Jesus forbids us to set any such limits: our neighbour is any human being in need.
Our news media often paint a rather depressing picture of human nature, incurably bent on war, destruction, social and political injustice, and on all types and forms of immorality. That, of course, is what is seen as making news. But it should blind none of us from being more aware in our daily lives of the basic goodness of human nature, and of noting the many selfless and quite unnoticed acts of love and charity. And by being positive about our human nature and its capabilities for good, we become more aware of our own potential to love selflessly. This is what Jesus tries to help the lawyer to experience. Instead of giving him a dictionary definition of "neighbour," he presents him with the parable about the Samaritan who acts not out of a sense of duty or of guilt, but out of sheer love and generosity. Though we are not told, we can hope that the lawyer is fired with enthusiasm to live in a similar manner.
Perhaps we get impatient with the slowness of our society to make changes for the common good. But perfect love is not so soon reached. It's well to remember that Deuteronomy's law of love was given while the people were on their journey to the Promised Land, and that the Gospel parables were told while the disciples were still on their way to Jerusalem. Perfect charity is a challenge all through life. Along that journey there can be stops and even wrong turnings, but if we remember the Good Samaritan we can renew our desire to follow his example.
To stress the negatives in the parable -- the violence of the brigands, the neglect by the priest and the levite -- would be pessimistic and miss the real point. The Samaritan shows the virtues of humanity - even in people of whom little good was expected. The Jews were meant to take special care of the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. These were the groups most in need of charity, and so whoever came to their help would be helpful to all, without exception.