Monday, 15 July 2019

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2019 Year C

It is the Sunday of the Good Samaritan. Jesus is still making His resolute way to Jerusalem when a meeting with a lawyer turned into a match of wits. This learned lawyer, instead of asking Jesus, as he did in both Mark and Matthew, what the greatest commandment is, he zeroed in on the yardstick for attaining eternal life. And not in a humble manner though.

Whatever the manner he did, this question becomes for us a truly magisterial moment and more. I am interested in the more and will address it later.

The question about the greatest commandment is easily answered by both the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. One should love the Lord with the whole heart, soul, mind and strength and also to love one’s neighbour as oneself. However, the question on the benchmark for eternal life gave Jesus the opportunity to enlighten the lawyer on how to love the Lord and neighbour. So, this question is not really to establish the guideline of who our neighbours are but rather to rethink how we can be neighbours to others.

This definitely enlarges our notion of what it means to extend help to others. Human that we are, we are often limited by our categories. Often and unwittingly, we perceive through the lens of our prejudices. I have heard of people who will not rent a house to a person of a particular colour, for example. Hence, in a way, to describe the Samaritan as good is to expand the concept of neighbourliness because a good Samaritan is oxymoronic. Nothing good can come from him as good and Samaritan are both mutually exclusive. In fact, the Levite possibly crossed the road because in the Old Testament, God thought poorly of the Samaritans who live in Shechem (Eccl 50: 25-26). Therefore, in using the term, perhaps Jesus is teaching us that neighbourliness must cuts through the thickets of bias stereotyping. The Samaritan depicted as good helps us appreciate that assistance can come in the most unexpected form.

In a way, we are accustomed to viewing the notion of the Samaritan through the lens of sociability. How so? Can you name the one scourge in this country which is perhaps the embodiment of anti-social behaviour? You could shout corruption but I would say snatch theft. We read horror stories about them leaving their victims for dead. Would it not be nice to be rid of this affliction? Sociability is a measure of how we all can get along with each other no matter what. It coincides with our intuition that society has to be a place of human flourishing. Nobody wants to live in a dysfunctional society. Does it explain why so many of our compatriots have chosen to give up their citizenship for Australia, UK, US, Canada, NZ and Singapore? A functioning society is a profoundly powerful symbol of civilisation. In light of this sociability and human flourishing, to be civilised requires that we care deeply about the inequalities that exist in human societies and must strive to make right all that is wrong. Therefore, the Good Samaritan may be an icon of Man’s attempt to rid society of all kinds of prejudices in order to create a better world.

However, it is easy to miss the subtlety of this parable because we can be caught up with being neighbours to others. We all know and not just feel that something is amiss in our world which in turn becomes an impetus to do something about it. This drive is definitely augmented by our technological capabilities. We believe we have the wherewithal to make the necessary adjustments to transform the world so that being a “good” neighbour is the set standard of what a civilised society is supposed to be. In other words, the transformation we long for is another word for becoming a better human. Think about it, right? All the mod-cons have for their goal an enlargement of the space that makes human flourishing possible. We would want machines to take over our tedium of work so that we can have the chance to live leisurely. In fact, the word “scholar” is derived from the Greek “scholastes” which translates as “one who lives at ease”. So, a scholar is really a gentlemen of true leisure.

Earlier on, I mentioned about the magisterial moment and more. The more is when this Gospel of Nice we buy into might blind us to a deeper reading of the Good Samaritan. What is this Gospel of Nice? A better human being is by definition a nice person as in “Why can we not just get along with everyone and be nice”? It is a moralistic programme but the more that we might miss out is that the Good Samaritan is also a commentary on the fallen state of humanity. According to the Christological and soteriological allegory of Church Fathers like St Augustine, Jesus is the true, Good Samaritan who restores fallen mankind to the right relationship with God which the old dispensation could never do. Humanity is represented by the wounded victim after he was attacked by Satan. The Devil and his minions are personified by the thieves. The old dispensation is symbolised by the priest and the Levite. They stood for the best of what mankind had to offer but in themselves, they were unable to do anything for the victim.

It is left to the outsider and the rejected, the Samaritan who stands for Jesus Christ, to come to the rescue of wounded humanity. How much more sacramental can we get when the Samaritan uses oil and wine to salve the effects of sin on mankind. He brings the man to the inn which is a metaphor for the Church and even provided for further healing by giving power to the innkeeper, meaning the Apostles and their successors, who carry the ministry of healing through the sacrament of reconciliation.

Steeped in poverty, struggling with choking inequalities and in a world that is often mean, it is no wonder that being a neighbour—a good one, ranks highly in the modern valuation of discipleship. Christians are indeed called to be neighbours to the world. But, in the mission to better the world, the danger is to reduce it to just a human project. The parable, even though it challenges us to be good, clearly has soteriological significance—“What must I do to gain eternal life”?. Thus, the parable of the Good Samaritan has two goals. Firstly, it exhorts us to build a better world by being the good neighbour that Jesus was to the wounded. Secondly, it is to recall that we need God who in the person of Jesus has come to redeem us. We cannot do it ourselves no matter how powerful our technology is. Finally, the figure of the Good Samaritan bid us to remember that ultimately our goal is to be saved for eternal life. Nothing comes close to this objective.