This Sunday’s Gospel tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. It also puts it into context.
Context is a test. A “scholar of the law” asked Jesus what he must do to “inherit eternal life.” This is a serious question. Compared to this scholar, may I wonder how long I have spent thinking about this question?
Jesus responds in a truly rabbinical way: He directs the scholar to the Law. What does mean Torah say?
The scholar also responds like a real Jew. He quotes the Shema Israel, the profession of faith that a true Jew recites every day: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). The scholar also rightly adds, “and your neighbor as yourself”.
The Old Testament contains 613 commandments. The scholar, like Jesus, goes to the heart of the matter by recognizing the right priority: love of God and love of neighbor put everything in order, not to the exclusion of others but in recognition of what they serve.
But the self-righteous Judaism of the time of Jesus “legalized” everything. The Pharisees had the same concern as our scholar: “What must I do to inherit eternal life? This is a good and legitimate concern. But the Pharisees transformed this perspective into a legal code in which, no doubt, there would be various interpretations, different weights attached to this or to that.
This is why the scholar asks a supplementary question: “And who is my neighbour?” Because if salvation depends on loving my neighbor, I better know who to love.
One should certainly love one’s fellow Israelites, but perhaps not public sinners (you may not be aware of private sinners) or (semi)-collaborators with Rome (although some of them may have also be raised in the religious establishment of Israel). You have to know who your neighbor is.
What is radical in Jesus’ answer is – as the Dominican scholar Father Ceslaus Spicq has noted – that he does not tell us who the neighbor is. is but rather which neighbor Is. It also specifies that the one to whom a neighbor shows what a neighbor is doing encompasses Everybody.
This problem ran throughout the Old Testament. It came to a head in the Book of Jonah. As the Polish Jewish-Catholic writer Roman Brandstaetter tells this story, Jonas is not a bad man. He is not someone who necessarily wants to escape the will of God (although, he might have added, that will was not necessarily comfortable). Jonah may very well have been an observant Jew, a Jew devoted to Yahweh and to seeing the Day of the Lord.
The problem was that by asking Jonah to preach repentance to those vile heathen Ninevites, God was asking him to extend the blessings and kindness bestowed on Israel to those who, at first glance, seemed neither interested in nor deserving of those blessings. and who goodness. To do that would be – stealing the New Testament – throwing “pearls before the pigs,” which Jonah could not have imagined God would do. If, then, he was asked to do such a thing, perhaps the one asking was the Evil One disguised as the voice of God. If so, one should stay as far away from such a temptation as possible – like booking a sea cruise to Tarshish.
We know how this idea took off.
The idea that a Gentile could also be open to hearing the Word of God was a practical problem in Jesus’ day. At the time Jesus was active in his ministry, Rome is said to have occupied Israel for over 70 years. Israel sat at the crossroads of the Middle East. He met all kinds of people. Israel’s covenant theology may have made her the chosen of God, but was that election exclusive or was it meant to prepare through Israel for a wider and more divine evangelism? inclusive? Israel wanted to remain pure in the midst of Roman occupation. But experience also showed that not all Gentiles raved against the Lord. So how do you square this circle?
Therefore, Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan does not stem from “trying to be kind and inclusive” to everyone. This came from the point of view of what the election of Israel meant vis-à-vis an obviously larger world?
We know the main classic lines of the parabola. A man travels from Jerusalem to Jericho. It’s not a long drive – about 20 miles – but it’s winding, steep, and descends nearly 3,000 feet in elevation from start to finish. (Driving it today is about 45 miles.) It was considered dangerous even in the days of Jesus.
He is ambushed. Travelers have to carry money and so they are prey. They beat him, take his clothes, leave him to his fate (which could have been death) and leave.
Three other travelers meet him. Two are passers-by. A priest – a representative of the religious establishment, educated in the Law, presumably concerned for his salvation – “crossed the street” to avoid him. A “Levite” did the same. The Levites assisted the priests in the religious and administrative functions of the Temple. He “also went over to the opposite side.”
Maybe they were scared. Maybe they thought it was a trick. Maybe they just didn’t want to get involved.
For a long time, the murder of Kitty sponge cake served as a modern victim story without a Good Samaritan. Genovese was a 28-year-old woman who, returning from work in the early hours of Friday, March 13, 1964, was robbed and murdered. The classic account of the Genoese murder was that there were dozens (the highest claim was 37 to 38) of “witnesses” to the crimes who did nothing. Today’s reports suggest that these claims were greatly exaggerated. Some people heard “something” but didn’t know what or didn’t come out to investigate what they thought they heard at 3 a.m. in Queens, New York. A neighbor apparently found and waited with Genovese until an ambulance arrived, in which she died en route to hospital.
I cite Genoese history because the vivacious version of “disinterested passers-by” seems to have been modified by a more nuanced account of witnesses, actions (or non-actions) and motives. I suggest the same about the priest and the Levite. They might have thought they had good (or at least justifiable) reasons to switch to the opposite side. Jesus himself does not comment on what they did or did not do: the Gospel gives “only the facts”. They did nothing.
But the Samaritan does something. He goes out of his way to provide practical help. Not only does it provide the first century version of first aid, but it moves the victim not just to a safer place on the road, but to a place of civilization – an inn. Having taken on the burden of helping, he continued to help her all night. The next morning, he even pays the innkeeper to keep the care going, knowing that if he hadn’t, the innkeeper would probably have been more proactive than the priest and the Levite in getting rid of someone who didn’t. was “not his problem”.
The Samaritan is remembered not only for providing practical help, but because he is a Samaritan.
The New Testament speaks of animosity between Jew and Samaritan (see, for example, John 4:9). Much of it is probably lost in the mists of history.
In 721 BC. BC, Assyria captured the northern kingdom of Israel and deported its people. According Samaritanclaims that they were among the people the Assyrians left behind. Their understanding of themselves is that they practiced the religion of ancient Israel, including Mount Gerazim in northern Israel as the center of their worship. According to Jewish claims, the Samaritans were among the replacement peoples sent by the Assyrians to take the place of the deportees. Their “religion” was thus a crude syncretistic mixture of their pagan roots and the vestiges of religion which they encountered in Israel. In this sense, for the Jews, the Samaritans were worse than the “average pagan”, because they combined their paganism with vestiges of Judaism.
How could there be anything good about such great suitors?
Jesus is not saying that religious matters are unimportant. Jesus does not engage in a primitive form of “moralistic therapeutic deism”, that is, what matters is “doing good things” that help others while God looks down on heavens, not necessarily interested in religious worship.
Yet Jesus presents him as the Samaritan to the “learned” as an answer to “who is my neighbour?” The Samaritan – whatever other religious deficiencies he may have had – knew how to answer this question, which had direct implications for one of the most important commandments. The priest and the Levite might theoretically be able to teach the Law, but the Samaritan was a practical witness. Recalling last week’s quote from Pope Saint Paul VI Evangelii nuntiandi, the Samaritan was a teacher for the scholar because he witnessed what to do, how to be merciful.
Today’s Gospel is illustrated by an oil painting from 1849 by the French romantic painter, Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863). The book is private property. Delacroix was painting when Romanticism replaced classicism as the preferred style in art (and in other fields, such as literature). Romanticism is a reaction to what preceded it: against the forms and lines of classicism, romanticism emphasizes individuality and emotion, particularly powerful emotions, such as fear. To some extent, Romanticism attempted to ape medieval elements of art in order to overcome the restrictions of Classicism and Renaissance forms. He valued originality and often tried to embody ideas, for example those of the Revolution in France. Romanticism in art originally began with landscape painting. Bold and strong brushstrokes are characteristic of Delacroix’s romanticism.
We find these elements in his “Good Samaritan”. The desolate desert of the Jerusalem-Jericho road lent itself as a landscape to the painting. We see rocks, bare ground and a few tufts of grass. The rocks in the background are not sharply defined, as one would expect in classicism: as one commentator pointed out, Delacroix’s color and blurry technique would influence future Impressionists.
We capture the Good Samaritan when he has bandaged the wounded man and is about to put him on his horse. The passivity of the victim contrasts with the action of the Samaritan. Both figures, however, seem almost baroque in their size and musculature. Contrasts of dark and light allow the figures to stand out, notably the horse’s head and the bright red of the Samaritan’s clothing (which contrasts with the torn clothing of the victim). Once the man is on the horse, they plan to get out of this abandoned place.
Delacroix’s work influenced that of Vincent Van Gogh “Good Samaritan” which dates from 1890 and, at least in terms of positioning, functions as a sort of “negative” or inverted image of Delacroix’s painting — what is oriented to the right for Delacroix becomes oriented to the left in Van Gogh. Van Gogh’s shapes and color palette are characteristic of him.
I vaguely remember a line from the new jurassic park film which I think sums up the meaning of today’s Gospel: “Doing nothing is not an option. At least not really.