Like you, I’ve heard the Gospel parable of the good Samaritan many times over. Yet this striking story bears repeated hearing because it presents a life-changing path we can easily overlook or forget altogether.
While there is a good Samaritan in all of us, our tendency to self-love and self-preservation blinds us to the burning question that becomes the center of the conversation between Jesus and the scholar of the law who asks, “Who is my neighbor?”
The dialogue between Jesus and the scholar of the law is not a friendly exchange. Rather, St. Luke tells us that the scholar sets out to test Jesus in the hope of trapping Jesus in his own words. Yet the questions he asks Jesus speak to the core of our being. Try as we might, we cannot avoid these fundamental questions of life.
The first question the scholar poses is deep in the heart of every human being: What must I do to inherit eternal life? The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us we are created out of divine love by God and for God. We need not exist. Yet eternal life is written on our hearts. What a gift of God it is to be created with eternity stamped on your heart!
We know this from the persistent longing we experience for something beyond the material world. We may ignore this longing for God or find pleasurable or destructive substitutes, but God himself is inscribed deep in our being.
Jesus responds with the double commandment that would have been familiar to the scholar of the law. For the command to love God and neighbor stood at the heart of the covenant God made with Israel whom he called into a relationship of love, forgiveness and mercy. To live as a son or daughter of God was to become a living image or reflection of God in the world by growing in love of God and love of neighbor.
Jesus’ answer does not satisfy the questing mind of the scholar. For he pushes forth with another question that is also written deep in our hearts: Who am I called to love? Who am I invited to reflect God’s mercy and love to today?
St. Luke tells us the priest and the Levite crossed to the opposite side to avoid encountering the stripped, beaten man who lay abandoned on the roadside. So what made the Samaritan traveler respond differently to the same wounded person?
St. Luke simply tells us that the Samaritan was moved with compassion. In other words, his heart was open not only to the suffering of another, but to suffering with another, which is the root meaning of the word “compassion.”
Let us beg for God’s grace to soften our hearts to recognize and to suffer with those who are wounded in and outside the church as we pray, “speak to me, Lord.”