Sunday Gospel reflections: Who acts like a neighbor?

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

"The Good Samaritan" by Balthasar van Cortbemde, 1647. Photo: Public Domain

The parable of the good Samaritan would have been shocking to Jesus’ audience: the idea of a “good” Samaritan was completely foreign to them. The Samaritans were descended from northern Israelites who had intermarried with foreigners when the Assyrians conquered the region some 750 years earlier. As such, first-century Jews considered Samaritans to be non-Jews whose religious beliefs had been contaminated by their foreign ancestors.

Thus, it is highly unlikely that any of Jesus’ Jewish listeners would have considered a Samaritan to be a “neighbor.” In fact, in a strict reading of Leviticus 19:18, the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” means “fellow countrymen only.” But Jesus makes a Samaritan the hero of this parable in order to change the focus of the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus does not define who is or is not a neighbor. Instead, he describes someone who acts like a neighbor. The Samaritan saw a man in need, and he helped him without hesitation.

At the end of the parable, the lawyer understands that “the one who treated him with mercy” was a neighbor to the man who had been robbed. He recognizes that our actions are more important than an abstract definition of who is or is not a neighbor. Jesus then challenges him to act the same way. Through this parable he also challenges us to act like neighbors to those in need.

 — John L. McLaughlin


Deuteronomy 30:10-14

Psalm 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37 or Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 11

Colossians 1:15-20

Luke 10:25-37

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