The two teachers I often share are both Catholic priests. One who is Belgian, Henri Nouwen. And one who is a Midwesterner, Richard Rohr. Both men have consistently spoken to my heart journey that I have been on. I am grateful for their words that have deepened my love for Christ and expanded my understanding of the Divine.
In this homily, Fr. Richard reflects on the well-known story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–35), a parable Jesus used to teach us what common-sense compassion looks like in our everyday lives.
This is probably the most well-known of all Jesus’ parables, probably because the lesson of compassion is so obvious. First of all, we have a scholar of the law. This smart man stood up to test Jesus, asking, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus just asks, “Well, what’s written in the law?” And the answer the man gives is perfect. He puts together the two great commandments, exactly as Jesus himself would do: “Love God and love your neighbor.”
Jesus says to him, “Do this and you will live.” Then there’s a giveaway line: “Because he wished to justify himself, he then asked, ‘Who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:25–29).
Jesus tells him this beautiful story that we call the story of the Good Samaritan. I’m sure many of us have been told that the Samaritans were the outright enemies of the Jews, so here Jesus is picking a bad guy in their eyes to be, in fact, the good guy.
In the story, a man who was coming down from Jerusalem fell victim to robbers and was left half-dead. A priest and a Temple assistant were going down the same road but passed him on the other side. Priests and Levites had to maintain ritual purity. In Judaism at that time touching a dead body made a person ritually impure. That’s perhaps the reason these two walked by the man. They’re not necessarily bad people; they’re just trying to maintain ritual purity so they could enter the Temple. This is part of the point of the story: love is more important than ritual purity. These men want to be pure and to do their priestly works, so they pass up a chance to love an ordinary human being.
The Samaritan who came upon the man was moved with compassion. I might say to the man, “I’ll pray for you,” but the Samaritan really goes out of his way! He bandages his wounds and takes him to an inn. He gives the innkeeper money, and even offers to repay any more that the innkeeper spends in the injured man’s care. He goes to the utmost degree to show compassion. Jesus simply asks the scholar who was trying to justify himself: “Which of these three was neighbor to the wounded man?” (Luke 10:36).
What Jesus is doing in this beautiful story is defining what love of neighbor is: it is the concrete practice of love and caring. We already know this law of compassion, because it is written in our hearts. Our common sense knows what we are supposed to do, and we still don’t do it. We contradict our own good common sense when we seek ritual purity or any kind of moral superiority instead of loving who and what is right in front of us.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “The Good Samaritan,” homily, July 14, 2013.