While I am away on my vacation, I leave the following Reflection for your consideration.
How could Moses have been more explicit in what he asked of those who followed him on the long pilgrimage to the Promised Land? He invites them to keep God’s commandments and suggests that they return to God with heart and soul. Did he ask something beyond their capability? No. He adds, “For this command…is not too mysterious and remote for you.” Rather, is is “something very near…already in your mouths and in your hearts.” They must only “carry it out.”
Jesus may well have been pondering this moment when he answered the scholar who asked him how to inherit eternal life. Jesus demonstrated his Jewish credentials by reciting part two of the Shema, the central prayer of Judaism from the book of Deuteronomy, recited twice daily by observant Jews: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind.” Jesus may or may not have surprised his questioner when he added a second commandment to the first: “and your neighbor as yourself.” It is evident that the questioner could not have known to whom he was speaking, as he replied to Jesus: “You have answered correctly.” Imagine not only giving Jesus a quiz, but then grading him on it!
His next question to Jesus was: “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers by telling the tale of a victim of robbers.
There are many features in this story that we should note. Consider first the injured man was passed by the priest and the Levite, who no doubt were on their way to the Temple in Jerusalem. If they had encountered or assisted the bloody victim, they would have been rendered ritually impure and thus incapable of making the sacrifice as they intended. But then “a Samaritan traveler…was moved with compassion at the sight.” Remember the Samaritans were outsiders; Jews and Samaritans did not even speak to each other. But it is a Samaritan heart that is moved with compassion.
What had to astonish those who heard Jesus tell the tale of the Good Samaritan is that an outsider, not a priest or a Levite, is the one who first makes his heart like the heart of Jesus.
Notice next that Jesus quizzes the one who first quizzed him: “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim? The answer is simple: The Samaritan. But instead the answer came: “The one who treated him with mercy.” The speaker avoided even speaking the word Samaritan, the name of the group he despised. But Jesus tells him to “Go and do likewise.” Imagine the consternation that scholar must have felt, as he was commanded to imitate the virtue of the very one he had despised.
The challenge is ours as well—to make our hearts like the heart of Jesus, moved with compassion to act in love.
—William C. Graham