Who is NOT Our Neighbor?
by Paulist Fr. Rich Andre
July 10, 2016

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year C
 (Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Psalm 69; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37)
09/10 July 2016 – First weekend preaching at St. Austin Parish, Austin, TX

It is such an honor to be with you! I am THRILLED that the Paulist Fathers and Bishop Vasquez have accepted my request to be stationed at St. Austin. If you’ve been around the parish for the past seven years, you probably know both of my classmates, René Constanza and Tom Gibbons. As I like to say: Fr. René is the holy one; Fr. Tom is the funny one; I’m the good-looking one. 

And that joke is a good set-up for today’s gospel, the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus is telling what sounds to be a classic three-part joke, but the ending turns it from a punchline into a parable. A parable is a story with an unexpected twist at the end. If we think that we completely understand the meaning of a parable, we’re probably missing the point. 

When most of us hear the word “Samaritan” in any context, we immediately think of the good guy in this parable. But in Jesus’ time, Jews hated Samaritans. By the time of Luke, Samaritans had massacred Jews, and Jews had massacred Samaritans. Jews would have bristled at the idea that a Samaritan could be good. 

If we were to re-cast this parable today, who would be the Samaritan in the story? Who would be the beaten and abandoned man? Who are the disinterested passers-by, and are we among them? This is an especially timely question to ask in light of the killings that have dominated the news in the past two weeks: Istanbul. Dhaka. Medina. Baghdad. Baton Rouge. Minneapolis. Dallas. 

Our Colossians reading beautifully proclaims, “in [Christ] all things hold together.” Let us ask the Holy Spirit to help us see one another with the eyes of Christ! 

I don’t know what Luke’s audience would have thought about a priest and a Levite ignoring a man beaten half to death. Would they have been shocked? I’m not sure. But after the horrors of the clergy sexual abuse scandal, we know people who could imagine a priest walking by a robbery victim without lifting a finger.

Most first-century Jews would have rejected the idea that a Samaritan could be a good person. The scholar of the Law who questioned Jesus was probably horrified to hear that he has supposed to love Samaritans as himself.

Who are the Samaritans in our lives today? When Jesus says that we are supposed to love everyone as he loved us, who are the people that we really hope he’s not going to mention? 

We rarely know what causes a person to take the life of another person. Nevertheless, people have conjectured that the perpetrators of the killings in the past two weeks’ news were motivated by their hatred of people who have certain cultural practices, religious beliefs, poltical affiliations, nationalities, skin colors, or career professions. It’s a very appropriate time to ask ourselves if we contribute in any way, shape, or form to the condemnation of people who are different from us. Because, when we get to the heart of it, the parable of the Good Samaritan is about prejudice.

Seriously, let’s each take a moment. Is there a group of people out there whom I believe are not as good as me? [Pause.] Do I harbor prejudice against people of a different race, ethnicity, economic level, gender, orientation, political party, or religious affiliation? Most of us claim that we don’t discriminate… but I sure have a lot of Facebook friends who are quick to condemn people who belong to other political parties or geographical regions than they do! 

In the past few weeks, it feels as if a lot of Americans have placed restrictions on who their neighbors are. We saw such an outpouring of grief and solidarity for those killed in Paris and Brussels… but Americans have been more muted in expressing concern for the victims of recent atrocities in Istanbul, Dhaka, Medina, Baghdad, and various regions of Nigeria and Syria. What makes us more sympathetic to someone in Western Europe than to someone in Africa or the Middle East?

In this day and age when people are being killed because of their differences, how can we keep telling jokes based on differences in religious affiliation, race, ethnicity, or hair color? I promise to cheer for the Longhorns, but I resolve that I will never ask a UT fan what time it is! [Inside joke about what UT fans say about Oklahoma University whenever they are asked for the time.] 

So, perhaps we could each spend some time re-writing the parable of the Good Samaritan this week, addressing our own prejudices. What groups of people do we think of as being truly virtuous? What’s the appropriate dangerous road where we could be the person left for dead on the side of the road? And what group of people do we imagine least likely to stop and care for a stranger? Until we feel uncomfortable at the conclusion of the story, we probably aren’t absorbing the lesson Jesus intended us to hear!

Of course, there is one more person in the parable to recast. Who is the equivalent of the man who was robbed, stripped, and left for dead? Today, for many of us, the abandoned man could be a Middle Eastern Muslim, Christian, Jew, Yazidi, or… Samaritan. Yes, in the 21st century, there are still some Samaritans around – descendents of the very people reviled by many of Jesus’ early disciples. In Jesus’ time, there may have been close to a million Samaritans. Today, there are less than 800 of them. They still keep strict observance of parts of the ancient Law, and they still believe the proper place to worship God is on Mount Gerizim, near the city of Nablus in the West Bank. But time has not been good to the Samaritans. After the first intifada in the Holy Land in the 1980s, they had to abandon their traditional homes in Nablus for fear of safety.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? A internet search of the word “Samaritan” will turn up lots of hits for Christian groups that help people in need. But the actual Samaritans are people today who more likely need to BE helped by us! 

As Moses proclaimed to the people in our first reading: “this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you…. No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts.” 

God commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves. We have only to carry it out.

Before we go our separate ways today, I would like to share what my friend Jessica posted on Facebook this week:

“I implore you, my dear friends …, today of all days, lean in.

“After Alton in Baton Rouge, Philando in St. Paul, and the officers (whose names I haven’t yet learned) in Houston, we’re all feeling so busted up, broken, and even more achy and heartbroken and frightened and sad and angry and outraged and depressed and depleted.

“I still don’t know what to do or say. But I keep coming back to the very simple fact that FEAR CANNOT WITHSTAND PROXIMITY.

“Let me say it again, for the people in the back.

“FEAR CANNOT WITHSTAND PROXIMITY. Invite your [friends with a different skin color than you] into your home for a meal. Invite your law enforcement friends into your home for a meal. Get to know someone who is passionate about . Get to know someone who is passionate about . Stop talking so much and start listening.

“I’m convinced that relationship — genuine, hard, messy relationship — is the only way we’ll survive this.”