Saint Benedict, the father of western monasticism, begins his Rule with the imperative, “Listen!” This is no superficial instruction, but requires the opening of the “ear of the heart”. The words of Moses in today’s first reading are saying much the same thing: the word enters the heart, transforming it. The purpose of such “listening” is so that you can do it, that is, put the word into practice in your daily life.
Today we have the celebrated parable of the Good Samaritan. There are various ways of reading it because all parables are suggestive and forbid univocal explanations. Let us take it, however, as a reflection on listening and obeying. The listen-obey dynamic is in fact present in two ways. The first is in the transformation of the lawyer who speaks with Jesus. The second is in the actual story of the Samaritan.
The lawyer begins the exchange sceptical or hostile (to put him to the test); Jesus, however, replies with two questions, “What is written in the law? How do you read?” These questions are asking about the content and about the way to receive the word. The lawyer’s reply indicates that he perfectly understands the content, so Jesus tells him to put it into practice (do this, and you will live). I always imagine this lawyer as young and a bit “cocky”. He can’t let it go, but has to justify himself. It is in response to his challenge that Jesus recounts the parable. At the end, the lawyer seems to have lost all pretence and bravura: with simplicity he embraces the conclusion of the parable (“The one who showed mercy on him”) and Jesus then invites him to cross the line between listening and living. We could read this gospel as the conversion of the lawyer.
But what of the Good Samaritan? There is the ethnic element, always of interest to Luke. The Samaritan is a foreigner who presumably does not know the Law. Yet he has unknowingly incarnated the heart of it in his conscience and in his perception. His visual “listening” to the silent cry for help of the stripped, mugged and robbed traveller, manifests itself in an elaborate response of compassion. Compassion means feeling the suffering of the other: only a person gifted with the ability to exit from his or her own concerns can show it. Ironically, the priest and Levite are blocked not just by fear for their own safety, but maybe also by concerns about violating technicalities of the Law.
What, then, is the Lord inviting us to do today? To listen closely to the word of life, certainly. Such listening, however, leads to an attentiveness to the cry of all in need and an attentiveness to the many voices of our world. Then we respond in obedience and in how we live: Go and do likewise!
By Fr Edmund Power osb