15th Sunday in Ordinary Time – C
Today we hear the parable that Jesus told called “The Good Samaritan.” Every one of us knows how it goes. We call someone who does a good deed a Good Samaritan, the parable is that familiar. Many hospitals and health care facilities are called Good Samaritan.
You have heard lots of homilies on the Good Samaritan parable, talking about how the priest and the Levite saw the Jewish man who had been beaten, robbed and stripped, and went to the other side of the street and ignored him. And then how the Samaritan came along, the enemy of that Jewish man who had been beaten, robbed and stripped. And the Samaritan shows him neighborly compassion.
We have heard about how we can resemble the priest and the Levite more than we do the Good Samaritan. And so we are warned.
You know that parable, you know that explanation, and it truly is a valid one. But today I would like to present to you another way of looking at this parable, maybe one that you have never heard before. And yet is backed up by the parable itself.
We begin by looking at the group that heard Jesus speak this parable for the very first time. Who were they, and how did they understand it?
They were Jewish, they were from Galilee, and they were peasants. Unlike us, they would not have identified so much with the priest or the Levite or the Good Samaritan – but rather with that poor Jewish victim who got beaten, robbed and stripped and left for dead on the roadside.
Why would they identify with him? Because he was like them. They knew what it was like to go on that dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho. And what happened to that poor man could easily happen to them.
They could picture themselves beaten, robbed and stripped, and then, opening their eyes, seeing in their enemy’s face the merciful face of God.
And this would challenge them to see every person as a neighbor, and to become a doer of mercy across any boundary of pride, prejudice or hatred.
This parable would have knocked them off their feet. And when Jesus says at the end, “Go and do likewise,” He did not mean for them only to imitate the Good Samaritan but also to imitate the victim: if mercy and compassion can come from one’s apparent enemy, then no one is an enemy. Everyone is neighbor. This is quite a teaching!
And all this is in answer to the lawyer’s original question: “And who is my neighbor?”
I have a story to illustrate this – it’s a pretty blunt story, and it makes a strong point. And here it is:
He didn’t know how it happened – it had never happened to him before. But there he was, a third grader, seated at his school desk, and he had just wet his pants. He could hardly breathe, he was so upset.
“When the boys see this, I’ll never hear the end of it. And when the girls see this, they’re going to gossip about me and I’ll be ashamed for the rest of my life!”
And so he bowed his head on his desk and prayed: “Dear Lord, this is an emergency – help me – please, help me!”
He lifted his head, and saw his third grade teacher coming down the aisle, and she had that look in her eyes that said: “I know what’s going on!” He was so embarrassed.
Then behind his teacher came a classmate, a girl named Susie, and she was carrying a fishbowl full of water and fish.
She was following her teacher and the teacher goes to step aside to let Susie pass by. And Susie bumps into her teacher’s hip and dumps that whole bowl of water and fish into his lap.
He pretends to be angry, but inside he’s saying, “Thank you, God! Thank you for this miracle!”
What could have been an opportunity for ridicule now became an opportunity for sympathy. His teacher says to him, “Go to your locker and get your gym shorts, then go down to the lavatory, and dry off. You may wear your gym shorts the rest of the day.”
While he was out of the room, the class turned on Susie, telling her, “You are such a klutz!”
At the end of the school day he saw Susie waiting for her bus. So he went over to her and whispered, “You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” She whispered back, “Yes, I did. I wet my pants in school once too.”
He looked at her face – the face of one that he used to think was his enemy – and now he saw that it was the face of his friend. He said to her with all his heart, “Thank you, Susie! Thank you so much! You saved my life!”
Jesus tells us this familiar parable today about the Good Samaritan. He is asking us to look not only at the compassion of the Good Samaritan, but also at the conversion of the victim, who was shocked to see the mercy of God coming to him from someone that he always thought was his enemy, but now could call his neighbor and his friend.
And Jesus says to us, “Go and do likewise.”