From Who to Which, the parable of five questions – Monday, 27th week in ordinary time – Lk 10:25-37
Life is all about asking the right questions and the lawyer certainly had a question with a hope attached to it; WHAT must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus answered the lawyer’s question with two other question, “WHAT is written in the law?” and “WHAT do you read there?” Now we have three questions and no answer yet.
The lawyer in the parable is often made out to have malicious intent because the narrative tells us that he wished to “test” Jesus. I would like to suggest that we cut him some slack, for he also seems to be a respectful chap; he addressed Jesus as “teacher” and went on to answer the Lord’s question respectfully.
While the lawyer wanted to ‘test’ the Lord, Jesus wanted to test the lawyers understands of the law and this lawyer certainly had more than just rudimentary knowledge; he had a remarkable understanding too. In response to Jesus’ double question he combines two teaching from the Old Testament, the Shema from the book of Deuteronomy and a teaching from Leviticus. “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.” And Jesus is impressed! For the young man wanted to know what he must DO to enter into eternal life and his response is more than correct prompting Jesus to say, “DO this and you will live.”
But now there seems to be a problem. The lawyer feels compelled to be justified by his belief of who really is a neighbour. One must understand that because the lawyer begins with another question WHO, it does not mean there is a dilemma in his mind. You see in the lawyer’s mind as in the mind of any Jew, their neighbour was any Jew, as long as he was a Jew! This is why scripture records this question not as one with a desire to know the answer but as one with the desire to be “justified.” He wanted Jesus to validate his belief and hence the fourth question, “WHO is my neighbour?”
Jesus breaks out into a parable which has come to be known as the ‘parable of the good Samaritan’. The parable is set on a journey between Jerusalem to Jericho, notorious for its danger and difficulty. It was an 18 mile route with a descent of more than half a mile in desert-like conditions. This route came to be known as the ‘way of blood’ because of the blood often shed there by robbers who looted trading caravans and pilgrims that passed by.
This parable has often gone through a paralysis by analysis. You must remember that parables have just one point. Therefore to pause to dissect the behaviour of the Levi and the priest who did not stop to help a man left to die on the road would take away from the meaning of the parable.
Remember we are on the fourth question, who is my neighbour? In choosing the Samaritan to be the saviour of the man left to die on the road, Jesus is expanding the concept of neighbour as not only ‘who he is’ but as ‘what he does’. Jesus is now doing the unthinkable; He is expanding the very concept of neighbourhood for the Jew. By making a member of a hated race a ‘brother’ to a stranger, Jesus is redefining who a brother is. So while the priest and Levi do nothing for a fellow brother, a hated enemy does what no one expects him to do.
Which bring us to the last question and this one is asked by Jesus to the lawyer. “WHICH of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The answer now stares the lawyer in the face for any one would blurt out that it was indeed the Samaritan; yet scripture tells us that the lawyers reply was, “ the one who showed him mercy.” Even at this stage the ‘righteous lawyer’ could not bring himself to even utter the word Samaritan but rather describes the man’s actions as being merciful while in his heart he could not “do the same”.
Remember the Gospel narrative began with the question of the lawyer, “what must I DO to attain eternal life?” Even though that one question was followed by four more it was not to evade the answer but to draw it out from the person who should have known the very answer. Jesus draws the parable to a close when He says, “Go DO likewise.”
The Jew was encouraged to open his heart to mercy, his life to others and his neighbourhood to the Samaritan. The Gospel does not tell us if he did as Jesus asked him to DO. The Gospel is silent and we do not know if the lawyer showed mercy and expanded the concept of his neighbourhood. There is a reason why the Gospel does not do that because the final question was meant for the reader. Have you expanded your neighbourhood? If not, go DO likewise.
Fr Warner D’Souza