In today’s Gospel, Jesus does not engage in a philosophical discussion with the “scholar of the law.” The lawyer wants to test Jesus, but Jesus uses the opportunity to teach him about the Kingdom of God. He directs the scholar of the law to the law itself, asking him how he interprets it. Because the law “is not too mysterious and remote,” as the reading from Deuteronomy tells us, the man is able to answer correctly by replying, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” His answer confirms what the first reading tells us regarding the law: “it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.” Jesus approves of the lawyer’s response and advises him to take the next step: “Do this and you will live.”
Jesus’ question to the scholar of the law is also a challenge directed to us. When he says, “How do you read it?”, he is inviting us to read and ponder the word of God, to spend time with the Scriptures, to let the word sink into our hearts, and to allow the Holy Spirit to reveal what he wishes to say to us. If, because of our pride or self-centeredness, we get puffed up with our knowledge of Scriptures, we fall into the fruitless pattern of the scholar who “wished to justify himself.” And so Jesus, in his tenderness and desire to reveal more to us, gives us the brilliant and beautiful parable of the Good Samaritan.
“Who is my neighbor?” As the story begins, we naturally assume the neighbor is the “man who fell victim to robbers.” However, as Pope Francis in this week’s Spiritual Reflection tells us, “It is not we who define who is neighbor and who is not, but it is the person in a situation of need who must be able to recognize who is his neighbor, that is, ‘the one who showed mercy on him.’” Thus, Jesus shifts the question from “who is my neighbor?” to “Am I a neighbor? Do I act as a neighbor to those in need?” We have all experienced times when we needed support and people around us, perhaps even family members, did not help us; they were not “neighbor” to us in our time of need. Instead, we may have received surprising help from a stranger and experienced this stranger as our “neighbor” – a true “Good Samaritan.” The Pope goes on to warn us, “If you do not feel compassion before a needy person, if your heart is not moved, it means that something is not right. Be careful; let us be careful.”
True generosity and compassion are not possible without love. But where can we get enough love to reach out even to those whose needs strike us as being too demanding? We cannot expect to produce love simply by a show of religiosity. Mere appearances of goodness are all the priest and the Levite in the parable offered to the victim, but not compassion. God, who is Love, is the Source of all love. He desires to pour his love into our hearts. If we welcome his gift, if we allow ourselves to receive his love, then we can love others with great generosity. Pope Francis beautifully states, “Mercy towards a human life in a state of need is the true face of love. This is how one becomes a true disciple of Jesus and the face of the Father is manifested.”
In his Letter to the Colossians, St. Paul also speaks about how the “true face of love” is manifested. It is Jesus himself. “Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God.” He who is God Incarnate is the perfect fulfillment of the law. He is the first and the perfect Good Samaritan, who came “to reconcile all things … making peace by the blood of his cross.”
We are all represented by the man who fell victim to the robbers. We have been wounded, sometimes very deeply wounded, either intentionally or unintentionally, by others. Worse still, we have been attacked by the Evil One, who is even now prowling about, “looking for someone to devour” (1 Pt 5:8). Jesus desires for us to experience his love, mercy, and healing – just like the victim in the parable experienced from the Good Samaritan. He wills to restore us so fully in his image that we may be his instruments of compassion and mercy to others in need, our fellow victims on the road of life. The Theme for this week invites us, “As he has shown us mercy and compassion, so must we reach out with mercy and compassion to those around us who are in need.” As Jesus has revealed that he is our neighbor, so must we be neighbors to others. He is telling us: “Go and do likewise!”
When have I neglected someone in need because of legalism or not wanting to get involved? What is blocking my heart that I am not able to feel compassion? How am I reaching out to show mercy and compassion to those in need?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.