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The gospel of Luke is written with a Gentile or Greek-speaking cultured people in mind. To them the author writes an account, composed using eyewitness accounts, of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. As Jesus has continued to teach and heal, he has frequently defied people’s expectations about how a holy man behaves. He has healed on the Sabbath, collected followers among the societal deplorables of the day and challenged the notions of Israel as first among God’s priorities. It today’s reading we encounter him with a religious leader as he challenges those who are seen as both spiritual and religious, to live a life reflecting the priorities of God not their own.
Two cultural things to note in the text are rooted in the nouns lawyer and Samaritan. Lawyers were religious leaders, scribes, who were specialists in the Law which was both the religious text of the Hebrew Scriptures (Torah) and also the legal law of the land. Remember this was a theocractic-like state not a secular democracy. Samaritans were residents of the region of Samaria, located between Judea (the south) and Galilee (the north). They were seen as less than equals. During the exile (genocide and mass deportation) of the Jewish nation during the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires (the 7th-5th centuries BCE) the Samaritans were left in the land. As the exiled Jews returned their religious traditions differed with those that remained. This was principally around the notion of where to worship God. Both groups though they were the ones closest to the original tradition, the most orthodox and the most faithful. So for Jesus to make the hero of the parable he tells to a scribe/lawyer a Samaritan is radically disruptive and disturbing, especially that a Samaritan does God’s will while a priest and Levite (the tribe meant to be priests) don’t.
The text challenges us today around notions of who is/are our neighbor(s)? Who are those that we are called to serve, to whom we show God’s compassion and the radical love tasted in the gospel? But maybe we’ve heard the parable teaching so much that we’ve become deaf to its deeper challenges: How will you love your neighbor? Why do you love your neighbor? Those two questions push us to action, active love; whereas we can all too often answer the classic question of “who” by simply naming a group, person, ethnicity, political persuasion different than our own; and then leaving it at that. Isn’t that what the lawyer did?
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation
Download a PDF study guide for today’s text HERE.