Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time • Year C

James D. Paradis, O.S.A.
Church of St. Augustine
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Dt 30:10-14
Ps 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37
Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11 Col 1:15-20
Lk 10:25-37

The first thing that comes to mind in hearing this parable again is gratitude – deep gratitude – for the people (whom I never met) but I call “Good Samaritans,” who 10 years ago found me unconscious and bleeding in a ditch on the streets of Philadelphia following a bike accident. I’m told that they saw me, rushed over and called 911.

Having heard the parable of the Good Samaritan many times over the years, that’s the usual takeaway we give to the story: a lesson about stopping to help a stranded motorist or someone in need. But for all its goodness, if we stay at that level of application, we miss the deeper truth and Gospel challenge of this parable. Can we listen to this best-known story afresh? For this, I want to draw on the insights of pastoral theologian Fr. Gary Riebe-Estrella, who calls this a “border-crossing parable” that challenges us to “cross over” differences in our lives that become divisions, in order to bring about a new world of God’s Kingdom.

The questions of the lawyer to which the parable responds are “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and “Who is my neighbor?” The response, however, shifts these questions beyond attachment to rules of religious practice to the deeper question: “How do I see with the loving eyes of God and draw near in mercy to the world around me?” On the road to Jericho, the priest sees the half-dead man and passes by on the opposite side. The Levite also sees and passes by on

the opposite side. The Samaritan comes along and “sees,” but it is a different kind of “seeing,” moved by compassion. He crosses the road into the man’s reality, into his pain, his world. He draws near. He gives from his own resources to help.

The question, then, from Jesus is directed to the lawyer: “Which of these do you think was neighbor to the victim?” The correct translation, however, is “Which of these three made himself-chose to be-neighbor to the man?” Herein lies the challenge according to Fr. Estrella: For Jesus, eternal life and being his disciple is about choosing those who are not my neighbor, as my neighbor! It’s not about simply being nice and neighborly to those who are friendly to me and deserving of it – which costs me very little – but reaching out to those on the edge, who may be in a different world and I may think of as my enemy. The challenge is not about “loving my neighbor” as an obligation of the law but drawing near with an expanded heart – to bring about a new world.

No matter how hard we try, we can never really get how shocking and threatening the people who first heard this parable would have felt. Samaritans and Jews lived for generations with intense hatred and separation. Now, Jesus’ deliberate choice of a Samaritan as the one who breaks boundaries and chooses to become neighbor would have blown open traditional thinking and religious practice. It would have challenged what it means to inherit eternal life. Maybe this is shocking for us as well.

How might we take steps to “cross over” the road into another’s world – to become neighbor to those who are not my neighbor? The road to Jericho passes through our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our lives. Will we be the priest or the Levite who, out of fear, passes by on the opposite side? It could be a family relation or friend where we don’t see eye to eye on many things and are divided politically. It could be a woman in a crisis pregnancy who feels alone and helpless and is contemplating abortion. It could be a street person approaching me for a handout or someone I initially judge as difficult or disgusting. Can we cross the road?

We stand today on many borders of difference: race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, mindset. How do we “cross over” and draw near to the lives of others? How do we help people in some way to get out of the ditch? There’s always the temptation to bring others to our world and our way of thinking, but the parable challenges us in a deeper way to cross the road and draw near to the lives of others, including those outside our circle. In so doing we build a new world of oneness and love.

For Saint Augustine, Jesus himself was the Good Samaritan who crossed the road of our broken humanity to draw near to us in our sin, to bind our wounds and wash us with his blood. We are now welcomed to the table of his great compassion and love. We strive to listen to him and to this parable with new ears and new heart – to him who tells us, “Go and do likewise.”