Ave Maria Catholic Church Parker, CO
Deuteronomy 30, 10-14 + Psalm 69 + Colossians 1, 15-20 + Luke 10, 25-37
There are many layers to this parable that Jesus uses to test the one who walked up to test him. At the point in the story where Jesus begins the parable, the scholar of the law who is probably some kind of know-it-all thinks he can disgrace this “no-body” from Nazareth with his questions. As the story unfolds, their little sparring match comes out even, at which point, Jesus takes the upper hand and tells this parable which shifts this passage from a dialogue about the law to a very different matter altogether.
The first two people to pass by the injured man have the law on their side. In fact, they do the right thing by passing him by. To have helped him would have run the very real risk of becoming unclean and violating the laws of purity. The law keepers cannot help – they do not help, and they are justified in doing so. I suspect to their credit, they probably went on by muttering something like: “Someone ought to do something.” Isn’t that what we always say when see something wrong and excuse ourselves from doing something about it? “Someone ought to do something!”
So as the story goes on, someone does do something. Someone comes along and does the right thing in spite of having every reason to do nothing. Samaritans were subject to the law just as much as the others, so it isn’t a matter that this Samaritan was not expected to keep the rules and observe the law. What’s remarkable here is that someone does do something when there is every excuse for doing nothing. So this parable can speak a challenge to all of us who hide behind rules and regulations as an excuse for doing nothing, or who keep on insisting that “someone should do something” when we are the ones who should.
Now we are always accustomed to hearing this parable from the point of view of the Samaritan since he has been held up for generations as the hero of the story. The Jews at the time of Jesus who were hearing this parable however could never have identified with the Samaritan, and in spite of his courage and generosity, they would never have focused on him as the point and center of the story. They would have identified with the man in the ditch. The surprise to them, the challenge of this parable is that a stranger, a foreigner, and even an enemy responded to them, and in that culture of reciprocity it meant that the man in the ditch owed something to the enemy! This is something else to think about; another level of this story.
Hearing this story as if it was a one-time event dulls its edge, and it removes the story from the living word of God. It is a parable that has a shocking twist that ought to shake us up and get us thinking just as much today as it did then. This parable is a provocative invitation to conversion. It’s not about becoming do-gooders. It is about the possibility that enemies might become neighborly to each other, that even someone we dislike or despise might be better than we are when it comes right down to doing the right thing. It is about raising the question not only of who is our neighbor, but who is our enemy and why do we have any? It asks the question of how we expect to be worthy of the kingdom we have enemies to begin with.
The view of this story from the ditch is probably the best way to hear it, and every reason to tell it.