It is so easy for us to gloss over this phrase at the end of the story, but it is one that requires we stop and pay attention. The scholar could have simply said “the Samaritan” but he so hated Samaritans, that he couldn’t even bring himself to say the word. We all know this as “The Parable of the Good Samaritan,” but for this scholar of the law, and for most of the Jews of Jesus’ day, there was no such thing as a “good” Samaritan. Samaritans were the bad guys
In crafting this Parable, Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. The priest and the Levite, two upstanding members of society, ignored the man in need. The scholar of the law would easily have concocted very good reasons for this seeming lack of charity on their parts. Neither the priest nor the Levite are the hero, rather it is the odious Samaritan. So thoroughly were the Samaritans hated by the Jews that I can even imagine the victim refusing the aid of the Samaritan, had he been conscious. Lucky for him, he wasn’t.
Yes, this well-known parable reminds us of the call to care for others when we find them in need, but it goes beyond the simple lesson of care for those around us. It challenges every label we are tempted to use, or box into which we desire to place others. It is a very human tendency to categorize and label others. The label is a short hand, it makes our life easy. Often the label allows us to discount another’s point of view, and sometimes it allows us to look past their need because they are in a category we do not value.
When asked “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers by making the enemy the star of the show, and having the hated one be the example, the one we are called to emulate. This parable invites us to not only ask “Who is my neighbor?” But to also ask “Who are my enemies?” Who do I label and categorize? Who do I discount and ignore? If we are to truly see everyone as neighbor, that means we have to stop seeing them as “other.” This is not small task. There is much that still needs to be purified in us, and this tendency to label and discount our neighbor is one of those things. In prayer this week, ask the Lord to reveal to you label you still use, and to give you the grace to set them aside.
Fr. Steve Dos Santos, C.PP.S., is the Missionaries’ vocation director.