Parable of the Good Samaritan

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

Today we reflect on the parable of the Good Samaritan (cf. Luke 10:25-37). A Doctor of the Law puts Jesus to the test with this question: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 25). Jesus asks him to give the answer himself, and he gives it perfectly: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind: and your neighbor as yourself” (v. 27). Then Jesus concludes: “do this, and you will live” (v. 28).

Then that man poses another question, which becomes very valuable for us: “who is my neighbor?” (v. 29), and he infers: “my parents? My fellow countrymen? Those of my religion? …” In sum, he wants a clear rule that enables him to classify others in “neighbor” and “non-neighbor,” in those who can become neighbors and those who cannot become neighbors.

And Jesus answers with a parable, placing at the scene a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. The first two are figures linked to the worship of the Temple; the third is a schismatic Jew, considered as a foreigner, pagan and impure, namely the Samaritan. On the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, the priest and the Levite come across a dying man, that brigands had assaulted, robbed and abandoned. In similar situations, the Lord’s Law foresaw the obligation to help him, but both passed beyond without stopping. They were in a hurry … The priest perhaps looked at his watch and said: “But I’ll be late for Mass … I must say the Mass.” The other one said: “But, I don’t know if the Law allows me, because there is blood there and I will be impure …” They go on another way and do not approach him.

And here the parable offers us a first teaching: it is not automatic that one who frequents God’s house and knows His mercy is able to love his neighbor. It is not automatic! One can know the whole Bible, one can know all the liturgical rubrics, one can know all the theology, but from knowing, loving is not automatic: loving has another way, intelligence is needed but also something more … The priest and the Levite saw, but ignored; looked but did not provide. Yet true worship does not exist if it is not translated into service to one’s neighbor. Let us never forget it: in the face of the suffering of so many people destroyed by hunger, by violence and by injustices, we cannot remain spectators. What does it mean to ignore man’s suffering? It means to ignore God! If I do not approach that man, or that woman, that child, that elderly man or elderly woman that is suffering, I do not come close to God.

But let us come to the center of the parable: the Samaritan, that is, in fact, the one who was scorned, the one on whom no one would have wagered anything and who, nevertheless, also had his commitments and his things to do — when he saw the wounded man, he did not pass beyond like the other two, who were linked to the Temple, but “he had compassion” (v. 33). So says the Gospel: “he had compassion,” that is, his heart, was moved; he was moved within! See the difference. The other two “saw,” but their hearts remained closed, cold. Instead, the Samaritan’s heart was attuned to God’s heart itself. In fact, “compassion” is an essential characteristic of God’s mercy. God has compassion for us. What does it mean? He suffers with us; He feels our sufferings. Compassion means: “to share with.” The word indicates that something within us moves and trembles on seeing man’s ill. And in the gestures and the actions of the Good Samaritan we recognize God’s merciful action in the whole history of salvation. It is the same compassion with which the Lord comes to meet each one of us: He does not ignore us, He knows our sorrows; He knows how much we need help and consolation. He comes close to us and never abandons us. Each one of us should ask himself the question and answer in his heart: “Do I believe this? Do I believe that the Lord has compassion for me, just as I am, a sinner, with so many problems and so many things?” Think of this and the answer is: “Yes!” But each one must look into his heart to see if he has faith in this compassion of God, of the good God who comes close, who heals us, who caresses us. And if we refuse Him, He waits: He is patient and is always at our side.

The Samaritan behaved with true mercy: he dressed that man’s wounds, he took him to the inn, took personal care of him and provided for his assistance. All this teaches us that compassion, love, is not a vague feeling, but it means to take care of the other even to paying in person. It means to commit oneself, taking all the necessary steps to “come close” to the other, to the point of identifying oneself with him” “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Behold the Lord’s Commandment.

The parable having ended, Jesus turns around the question of the Doctor of the Law and asks him: “Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (v. 36) Finally, the answer is unequivocal: “The one who showed mercy on him” (v. 27) At the beginning of the parable, for the priest and the Levite their neighbor was the dying man; at the end <of the parable> it is the Samaritan who came close. Jesus turns the perspective around: not to classify others to see who is a neighbor and who is not. You can become a neighbor to anyone you meet in need, and you will be so if you have compassion in your heart, that is, if you have that capacity to suffer with the other.

This parable is a stupendous gift for all of us, and also a commitment! Jesus repeats to each one of us what He said to the Doctor of the Law: “Go and do likewise” (v. 37). We are all called to follow the same path of the Good Samaritan, who is a figure of Christ: Jesus bent over us, made Himself our servant, and thus He saved us, so that we too are able to love as He loved us, in the same way.

[Original text: Italian]

[Translation by ZENIT]


In Italian

I greet the Italian-speaking pilgrims, in particular you, faithful of the dioceses of Chieti-Vasto, Novara, Alessandria, Chiavari and Pavia, led by your respective Bishops, and I hope that your Jubilee pilgrimage is rich in fruits for the benefit of your diocesan communities. I greet the faithful of Pattada, Tradate, Sant’Andrea in Andria and Santa Maria Maddalena in Dossobuono.

A thought goes to the Redemptorist Missionaries, to the priest educators of the Major Seminaries affiliated to the Urbanian University and to all those taking part in the Seminar promoted by the University of the Holy Cross.

I greet the young people, the especially numerous pupils of the schools, the sick and the newlyweds. To you, dear young people, I wish that you always be faithful to your Baptism, witnessing the joy that comes from the encounter with Jesus. I exhort you, dear sick, to look at Him who conquered death and who helps you to accept your sufferings as an occasion of redemption and salvation. Finally, I invite you, dear newlyweds, to think and live the daily family experience with a look of love that “bears all things and endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7).


[Original text: Italian]

[Translation by ZENIT]

General Audience: On the Parable of the Good Samaritan



SCRIPTURE READINGS:  JONAH 1:1-2:1, 11; LUKE 10:25-37

We are told in the gospel that the scribe wanted “to disconcert Jesus” and so engaged in an intellectual religious debate with Jesus regarding His attitude to non-Jews.  In response to the question of what one must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus referred to the Law of Moses which is simply this: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbour as yourself.”  Of course, the answer of Jesus is well known to every Jew, not least to the scribe who was a professional lawyer of the Torah.

Yet, the fact remains that the Jews knew that deep in their hearts they had not totally fulfilled this commandment, especially the last segment of the commandment.  The problem lies in the fact that for the Jews, their religion and nationalistic pride restricted them from reaching out beyond their own kind.  As far as the Jews were concerned, non-Jews were unclean and pagans had no hope for salvation.   We can understand that such a mentality existed during the time when the book of Jonah was written.  In the first reading, Jonah disobeyed God because just like his fellow Hebrews, they could not accept that God wanted the salvation of pagans.  Thus, Jonah left for Tarshish deliberately, hoping that God would punish the pagans for their wickedness.  He had no pity, compassion or love for them.  He only wished their destruction.  The irony of it all is that by wanting them to be exterminated, the sailors in the boat sacrificed him to save themselves saying, “’O Lord, do not let us perish for taking this man’s life; do not hold us guilty of innocent blood; for you, Lord, have acted as you thought right.’ And taking hold of Jonah they threw him into the sea; and the sea grew calm again.

Within this context, we can understand why the lawyer was “anxious to justify himself”.  He questioned Jesus further, “And who is my neighbour?”  It should be noted that this scribe wanted to engage in an intellectual discourse with Jesus by posing this question in such a way that was directed towards others.  The question was not “Am I a neighbour to others?”, but rather, “Who is my neighbour?”  Yes, the scribe was not really interested in examining himself, but rather in proving that his alienating attitude towards pagans and non-Jews was justified, namely, that non-Jews and sinners do not deserve our love and mercy.

Of course Jesus could see the self-righteousness of the scribe.  He knew clearly that ‘neighbours’ for the Jews could only refer to fellow Jews.  Thus, instead of responding in an academic manner, He discussed the problem existentially by relating the parable of the Good Samaritan.  At the end of the story, Jesus challenged him to rethink and adjust his mindset by asking him, “Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the brigands’ hands?”  Take note of the response of the scribe.  He said, “The one who took pity on him”.  He did not say explicitly that it was the Samaritan traveller, because it would be too difficult for him to admit that the one who really proved himself to be a neighbour was his enemy!

We too are just like the scribe.  We ask questions in order to justify ourselves.  We do not really want to know the truth about ourselves.  For like the scribe, we restrict our neighbours to our loved ones, our friends, those whom we like and those whom we can get something back in return.  We do not go beyond our circle of friends.  This was the attitude of the priest and the Levite in the story.  They were more concerned about their self-interest, their salvation, by not getting themselves ritually contaminated by either a dead man or worse still, by a non-Jew!  Similarly when our love is restricted to our loved ones and friends, such love is not truly divine love since to love our loved ones is not just for their sakes but ours.  Love for friends has mutual benefits unlike our love for strangers and those who cannot repay us in any way.   Helping those who do not even know that we help them is a true participation in God’s love, as Jesus tells us in the gospel, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others … But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”. (Mt 6:2-4)

But the point of the parable goes beyond even just helping those who cannot repay us but like the Samaritan who reached out to one who was not simply a stranger, but an enemy.  He took the risk of helping the injured man by bandaging his wounds and bringing him to an inn to recuperate at his expense without hoping for anything in return; perhaps even risking misunderstanding and condemnation. This Samaritan was moved simply by compassion and love.  If that was the case for the Samaritan, then our neighbours should rightfully include strangers, those who are helpless, our enemies and those whom we can get nothing back in recompense.

Jesus says to love only those who love us is to behave like pagans, for they love only in this manner. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. (Mt 5:43-48)

Indeed, it is easy to love those who love us.  The fact of life is that we care and love those who love us more.  But if we fail to be a neighbour to our enemies and those who do not like us, then we have not really loved. Jesus did not only teach us but in His very own life, He also died for us whilst we were still sinners.  “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:6-8)

It does not suffice to simply know who our neighbour is, as we are called to be a neighbour to others.  Yes, the command of Jesus is direct, “Go, and do the same yourself … and life is yours.”  Be a neighbour to the poor, the unloved and your enemies!  This is truly loving God and loving oneself.  Without a true love for our enemies and the helpless, we cannot truly claim to have the heart of God.  For this same reason too, we cannot inherit eternal life since the life of God and His compassion to all human beings, and even all creatures, is not in us.  If we are unable to go beyond our pagan love for others today because we do not have the heart of God, then we must turn once again to Jonah.  We are told that God sent a fish to swallow Jonah and he was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights before the fish vomited him onto the shore.  Following this experience, the rest of the Jonah story tells us how he returned to Nineveh to preach conversion and repentance to the people.

Of course, we are not told in today’s scripture reading what made him change his mind and obey the call of God.  This is because almost the entire second chapter has been omitted due to a space constraint.  In chapter two, we are told how Jonah reflected on his life, his ingratitude and the love and mercy of God for him when he was in the belly of the fish.  It was through prayer and recollection that he came to realize how great a sinner he was and how God has loved him in spite of his unworthiness.  It was in the belly that he experienced the merciful and universal salvific love of God.  Once he realized that God loves us all in spite of our sinfulness and that He wants the salvation of all, including the pagans and not the Hebrews alone, he decided to prophesy to the Ninevites.

We too must spend time in prayer and recollection so that we will become more conscious of our sinfulness and the lack of love in our lives.  We must recognize that if God loves us, then we are called to love others in return, especially those whom we consider undeserving of our love, such as our enemies or difficult people in our lives.  When we realize that God also wants these people to come to the knowledge of the truth and experience His love, we would gladly become His messengers of love, be a neighbour, and a good Samaritan to them, without having any thought of reward or appreciation.  Such a heart would necessarily mean that we have the life of God in us, now and hereafter, since all human beings and all creatures are our friends and we are one with them in love and unity.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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