July 10, 2022
Revised Common Lectionary
Amos 7:7-17 or Deuteronomy 30:9-14
Psalm 82 or Psalm 25:1-10
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Psalm 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37 (see 33)
Many states in the US have “Good Samaritan” laws that provide legal protection to bystanders acting in good faith to provide emergency care or assistance. These laws are of course named for the parable we hear in today’s Gospel reading but reflect a somewhat domesticated, even romanticized, view of this well-known story.
Although the Parable of the Good Samaritan appears only in the Gospel of Luke, it is perhaps the best known of Jesus’ parables. It is so familiar that hearers may often fail to grasp its deeply challenging message.
Consider the context in which Jesus tells the parable. He is being questioned by a lawyer. The pattern of their dialogue was not unusual for scholars of the Law, but Luke tells us that the lawyer “stood up to test Jesus” (Luke 10:25). Perhaps it wasn’t a hostile inquiry, but neither was it a sincere attempt to deepen understanding. It was a test.
When the lawyer asks what he must do to gain eternal life, Jesus turns the question back on him, asking what he reads in the Law. The lawyer’s spot-on response quotes both Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18: “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” (Lk 10:27). In both Matthew and Mark, Jesus refers to these as the two greatest commandments.
Jesus praises the lawyer’s response. But remember, he was testing Jesus. So, “wanting to justify himself” (10:29a), he posed yet another question: “And who is my neighbor?” (10:29b) The Parable of the Good Samaritan is Jesus’ response. A man, presumably a Jew, was making the dangerous journey from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was robbed, beaten, and left for dead. Both a priest and a Levite crossed the road rather than attend to the man, possibly to avoid ritual impurity and thus interfere with their duties—but significantly, no excuse is offered. It was the Samaritan, one of “those people” with whom Jews did not associate in any way, who “was moved with pity” (10:33), bandaged his wounds, transported him to safety, and paid for his care. The priest and Levite, who should have been guided by the obligation to help those in need, failed to do so. The Samaritan, however, was stirred by compassion for one he should have hated.
At the conclusion of the story, Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer: “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” (10:36) Now it is the lawyer who is being tested. The answer is as obvious as it is shocking. The lawyer can’t even bring himself to use the word Samaritan, but instead responds, “The one who showed him mercy” (10:37).
To understand the full import of this story, it might be helpful to think of the main characters in modern terms. Jewish Biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine notes that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho is located in what is today the Israeli occupied West Bank. She suggests that in that region today the priest could be a member of the Israeli Defense Force, the Levite a member of the Christian Peace Fellowship, and the Samaritan a member of Hamas. In this parable, Jesus is suggesting that the neighbor who shows compassion may be our most despised enemy—and that we should “go and do likewise” (10:37).
Levine reflects further on the meaning of this parable for a divided world: “If we could put a human face both on the victim and on the person who wants, ideally, to destroy that victim but shows compassion, we might be able to talk to each other. The point is, we have to give that person a chance, because if we don’t, we’re going to die in a ditch.”
A Hymn for Today: “The Church of Christ in Every Age”
British Methodist hymn writer Fred Pratt Green, FHS, created this text in 1969, expressing the responsibility of the Christian community “to care for all, without reserve.” The vocabulary and register of the language can make singers a bit uncomfortable, thereby making it a good choice on this Sunday when the very challenging Parable of the Good Samaritan is proclaimed. To view this hymn being sung by the congregation and choir of First Plymouth Church, Lincoln, Nebraska, click here.
The Church of Christ, in ev’ry age
Beset by change, but Spirit-led,
Must claim and test its heritage
And keep on rising from the dead.
Across the world, across the street,
The victims of injustice cry
For shelter and for bread to eat,
And never live until they die.
Then let the servant Church arise,
A caring Church that longs to be
A partner in Christ’s sacrifice,
And clothed in Christ’s humanity.
For he alone, whose blood was shed,
Can cure the fever in our blood,
And teach us how to share our bread
And feed the starving multitude.
We have no mission but to serve
In full obedience to our Lord:
To care for all, without reserve,
And spread his liberating Word.
Text: Fred Pratt Green, 1903-2000, © Hope Publishing Company. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857
Tunes: DUNEDIN, WAREHAM, DICKINSON COLLEGE, HERONGATE
Image Credit: Good Samaritan, John August Swanson, 2002
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.
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