Monday, May 14, 2012

The Good Samaritan

Who is my neighbor? is the question asked by the Christ in the parable of the Good Samaritan. While today the term "good samaritan" brings positive connotations, in the time of the Christ, this was not the case. The Samaritans were known as an offshoot of Judaism; the Shomronim as they are known in Hebrew, believed their mode of worship was the one, true religion of the Israelites prior to the Babylonian exile. Their ancient lands were known as Samaria.They believed that they alone were indeed the "true keepers of the Mosaic law."

At one time they numbered in the millions, later they were reduced by politics and other forms of suppression. Their numbers dwindled by the early Common Era; the advent of Islam further reduced them. However the Samaritans never were completely extinguished. Today they are counted in modest numbers in the West Bank and Gaza areas, possibly numbering less than 100 individuals there. With the advent of the Samaritan schism, the Jews no longer associated with them. They saw their methods as corrupt, contemptible. The process was a long, one. It is easy to point to a single source, but more likely it is multiple factors which led to the Bible writers in the early Common Era to view them negatively. Some bible historians such as Wayne Brindle of Grace Theological Seminary point out that their exact origins remain unclear.

Who, then, is our neighbor according to the telling of this story, the Good Samaritan? If, we, like most Jews of the time period, consider Samaritans less good, then may they be ignored? May we then according to the telling of the story by bible writer Luke pass him, who is in need, by? Luke recounts a man, beaten and robbed who lies in the road. Many pass him by for many reasons or none at all. A Samaritan passes, stops and assists the man.

The Christ points out that it was a Samaritan who helped this man, who showed him the mercies of the Lord (Even though many at the time disliked him because he was a Samaritan). He also asks his readers, who will find the kingdom of heaven? He concludes that in the tradition of Israel, all who love their neighbor as them self will see the Kingdom.  
Who is the neighbor? The neighbor, answers Thomas Merton, with consideration: that while the Creator may be good, not all men can be so perfect. Is there a place "where one should draw the line?" Merton asks. He notes this question is a matter of classification. It is also a judgement. To the average man these questions often occupy the mind, but to the Christ they were not relevant. He knew not to judge, lest you be judged, and that one must not classify or be classified.

Because love is free; it is not dependent upon other factors. "It loves for loves' sake."  If love contributes to a being, then that being develops and grows; love both gives and receives. If it demands to receive, and only to receive, before it gives, then it is not love. So then the parable as told by Luke is the mystery of mercy, or misericordia.

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