· Meditation ·
This Gospel is so well known that it is difficult to listen to it properly. And yet, as Psalm 81 says, God’s words can reach us as ever new words, unknown and unheard of. A teacher of the Torah [a lawyer] questions Jesus on the central point of their common faith and although his intention is provocative the extraordinary nature of this dialogue should not escape us. First of all Jesus answers him with another question so that it is the other man who finds the answer on his own, leaving aside his desire to provoke: “What is written in the law? How do you read?”. And the lawyer replies “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself”. The extraordinary thing is that his answer is identical to what in other Gospels is placed on Jesus’ lips! This man fully agrees with Jesus on the heart of the Torah and of the Prophets, all condensed in this one commandment on the love of God and of one’s neighbour.
And Jesus says to him: “Do this, and you shall live”; because this is the explicit intention of God’s Torah: that we put into practice what God, in revealing himself, teaches us. “Blessed... are those who hear the word of God and keep it”, are words of Jesus which are totally in conformity with their common tradition. And then, seeking to justify himself, this man of religion asks Jesus: “And who is my neighbour?”, as if he did not know enough to put the commandment into practice. Here the Gospel stigmatizes the religious temptation par excellence: to know in order to make oneself a teacher and not in order to accomplish something! As a justification, in other words, and not as a path and way of life in itself. The Gospel is full of such rebukes by Jesus: “They like to be seen as wise and pious but do not do what they tell others to do”. “They speak but do nothing”.
It is not the words of faith which make a contrast between this teacher of the Torah and Jesus. What sets him in contrast with Jesus, however, and we believers risk being that man, is his lack of the desire to put into practice the great commandment which he has just recited perfectly; it is his lack of love for human beings and hence for God. And then Jesus tells a parable at the end of which he will ask another question which the man of religion cannot avoid answering.Every day we must repeat to ourselves in our hearts what Jesus tells us about this Samaritan, for it is also a pressing invitation from him to make ourselves close in our turn to the human beings we meet: “And when he saw him he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him”.
This Samaritan is the icon of Jesus who with the parable invites us to recognize his compassion for us. Each and every one of us, if we have encountered Jesus in listening to the Gospel, have known the Lord’s mercy on our own wretchedness which had made us feel lost. And just as the Lord Jesus bent down over us, so he calls each one of us to do the same thing to those we meet who are suffering and in pain.
With this parable Jesus tells us that knowing ourselves to be frail and needy human beings is the way to recognize this same humanity in others who are suffering. And, as he says elsewhere, it suffices to imagine that the other belongs to us, and hence is as precious as a son or an ass, in order to know what to do for him, how to care for him, to feel within us the desire and the urgency of his salvation. This Gospel is still disconcertingly up to date: every day those with whom we live expect us to make ourselves close to them, and every day we encounter new people who have come up against the tragic misfortune of hunger and war.
The difference between that man of religion and Jesus does not lie in faith nor in the interpretation of the Scriptures, but rather in Jesus’ unique way of listening to them and studying them in order to put them into practice. Every time we listen to the Word of God without intending to put love into practice this does not enable us to meet the Lord.
St. Peter’s Square
Sept. 19, 2018
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