Jesus: My friends, what’s the use of saying: “I believe in God, and I have faith” if you don’t care about other people? If a hungry neighbor knocks at your door and tells you, “God bless you my brother,” yet you give him nothing to eat, then what’s the use of all this, huh?…. This is what happens to those who profess their faith, yet remain with their arms flailing. This faith is dead, like a tree that bears no fruits!
A Man: Very well said! Long live the prophet from Galilee!
We were in the temple of Jerusalem, at the atrium for foreigners. And as always, the people from the City of David gathered around us to listen to Jesus and applaud him. These were the common people: the potters, hawkers, prostitutes, water carriers… that is why we were all surprised to see the master of the Law, in his linen cloak and wearing a thick golden ring on his finger, approach our group…
Master: May I ask you one question, Galilean?
Jesus: Sure! We are all in conversation here. What is it?
Master: I have been listening to you for a little while. I only heard you speak of sharing what one has, of giving food to the hungry…. All this is very good, I don’t deny it… But aren’t you missing the most important?
Jesus: The most important?…. And what is the most important?
Master: God. You are forgetting God. Or is it because you are a political agitator and not a preacher of Moses’ Law?
Jesus: He was the same God who gave Moses these commandments of justice.
Master: Of course, Galilean, but the Law of Moses contains a lot of commandments… What would you tell me if I asked you which of them is the most important?
Jesus: You know the answer better than I do. What did they teach us in the synagogue since we were children?…. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.”
Master: So then, you say that the first thing is to love God above all things, is that right?
Jesus: Of course, my friend. God, above everything else. But… where is God? Sometimes you find Him where you least expect Him…
Jesus: Once there was a peasant going down the solitary road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Mounted on his old mule, that man was happily riding his way back home. He had sold rye from his harvest for a good price, and he was going home to his wife and children….
Peasant: Ho, ho, wake up mule!… We still have a long way to go… Oh, dear wife, wait till you hear my story….! Larara, lararara…! At last, we’ll be able to settle our debts with this little money… God, am I so lucky today!…. Larari, lararari!
Jesus: But it was not a lucky day for him because at one bend of the road, in the middle of the desert, a band of robbers was awaiting him… and when the man passed by ….
Robber: Give me all your money if you want to save your skin!
Peasant: No, please, don’t do this to me… I worked for this for six months, it’s for the food of my children… I’m nothing but a poor man…
Robber: Here, take this!
Peasant: Oh, please, don’t!…. Ohhhh!…
Jesus: The robbers gave him a blow on the back of his neck, scared the mule away and took away all his money….
Robber: I think he’s dead… Strip him of his clothes, too…
Another Robber: Bah, just dump him in that ditch… and let’s get out of here before anyone sees us…. Hurry!
Jesus: So they left him half dead by the road, naked and without his money… Soon, when the sun shone brightly over the desert, a caravan of camels was seen heading for the road. The priest from Jericho was travelling to Jerusalem to worship in the temple of God, a solemn cult of the children of Israel…
Sophar: I assure you, Priest Eliphaz, the feasts of this year will be beautiful…
Eliphaz: That’s right, Sophar. I was told that the high priest has ordered the purchase of the best incense from Arabia…
Sophar: He also bought new cups for the altar. They are made of pure gold from Ophir… let’s hope we won’t run out of wine to fill them up….. Ha!
Eliphaz: Hey,… do you see something in that ditch?…
Sophar: Where?… Oh, yeah…. but I can’t figure it out well…. is it a dead animal…. or a man?
Eliphaz: I bet it’s a man…. a drunk man. He must have drunk more wine than his body could take. He should be ashamed of himself getting drunk on these sacred days. Ah, Priest Sophar, these are the vices that plague our country nowadays!
Sophar: Hey, aren’t you ashamed of this?!!… You don’t even have respect for the Lord and his Law….. He’s not even aware of it… Maybe he’s dead… Do you think we should get a little closer to see if we can do something for him?
Eliphaz: Look, Priest Sophar, if he is alive, then he’ll know how to fend for himself… if he was able to get here, then he should know his way out too… and if he is dead, then what for?
Sophar: You’re right, Eliphaz. That’s a very sensible observation… But, what if he is only…. half dead?
Eliphaz: Do you know what I’m thinking of, Sophar? This type of people is an ungrateful lot, so they don’t deserve any help. A priest who was a friend of mine gave a lift to one of this kind. He had barely travelled a couple of miles, when the guy threatened him with a knife and robbed him of everything he had…. Now, isn’t that sad?…
Sophar: Yeah, I think you’re right. I guess this poor fellow is dead…. At least, Sir, you can give him his last blessing!
Sophar: Well, let’s forget about this. Let’s proceed with the journey, for we might be late for the ceremony…. Hooo, hooo, camels, let’s go…!
Jesus: In a short while, another traveller passed through that same dusty road. He was a Levite, one of those entrusted to teach God’s commandments to the people. He was accompanied by his wife…
Levite: I’m telling you Lydia, I’m not ready for anything… It’s easier to give a talk in a small village…. but to deliver a sermon in the synagogue of the capital is something else!
Lydia: There’s no need to worry, Samuel. Talk about…. God’s love, that we have to be good, and… that.
Levite: Hey, what’s that bulk over there, huh?… Look…
Lydia: Oh no, don’t tell me it’s a dead man… I’m scared of the dead!
Levite: No, he’s just wounded, the blood is still fresh…. look.
Lydia: Oh, this is horrible! Let’s go, Samuel. The sight of blood makes me sick, you know that… I can’t stand this anymore….
Levite: But, who is this poor creature? He’s so beaten up.
Lydia: He’s probably one of those rebels conspiring against Governor Pilate… Of course, they’re always in trouble, meddling in politics, and see how they end up… They can’t complain….
Levite: As a matter of fact, this fellow can’t complain.
Lydia: Remember Daniel’s son? He was such a nice young man… until he became a rebel… poor guy!… He ended up like this man… I really don’t understand why people can’t simply live in peace… What do you say, Samuel?
Levite: People are so violent, that’s why, Lydia. And of course, they have no respect for the Lord. They are taught the commandments and the good deeds… but that’s all. Everything enters through the right ear and passes through the left. If they loved God, these things would not happen… Blessed be God!
Lydia: And His holy name!
Levite: And this beast should better hurry, or we won’t get in time for judgment day!… Ea…. donkey,.. hurry up!…
Jesus: Then it happened that another peasant was crossing the bend on his old and skinny mule…
Samaritan: What a terribly hot day! Who could have ever invented the desert? If I don’t take these figs to the market, no one will buy them; but if I bring them with me, they get rotten along the road… and then they say that God does things very well!… I’d say the contrary… because oftentimes he gives you something that you’re helpless about…. Dammit, when I get to Jerusalem, I wouldn’t even have a fig to crush in the belly of the high priest, Caiphas!
Jesus: That peasant was a Samaritan, who did not believe in God, nor set a foot in the Temple. When he saw the badly wounded man…
Samaritan: Hey, what happened to you?!!… Damn, this guy looks terrible… He’s almost dead… If I am bad, this is even worse… The vultures must all be preparing for the grand feast!
Jesus: The Samaritan got off from his mule and went over to the man who was lying in the ditch. First he washed the blood from his face.
Samaritan: This wine will cure your wounds… let’s see… the oil will remove the pain… that’s it…
Jesus: Then he tore off his tunic and wrapped him with bandages. He covered him with his cloak and lifted him from the ground…
Samaritan: And they say that God takes care of the world and his people!… Well, see how He took care of this poor creature!… All this is silly talk!…
Jesus: The Samaritan who did not believe in God put him on his mount, together with the sack of figs that he was bringing to the market. Though he was on his way to Jericho, he returned to the inn in Anathoth, where he attended to him and spent the night watching over him as the fever went up on account of his wounds… When it was dawn, the Samaritan spoke to the innkeeper…
Samaritan: I have to go… I’ll pay you in advance… Buy all the medicines he will need, and if the money is not enough, I’ll pay you the rest when I come back.
Innkeeper: Hey, what will I tell him if he asks who brought him here?
Samaritan: Tell him another man brought him here… a man like you and me… Goodbye, and good luck… Take good care of him for me!
Jesus: That Samaritan, who did not believe in God, nor set foot in the Temple, proceeded on his journey along the solitary and risky road from Jerusalem to Jericho… Now, you who are a teacher of the Law, tell me, who among them, loved the Lord?
Teacher: Well,… the truth is… I don’t know… Of course, the man who helped the wounded did not believe in God, but…
Jesus: ….he went to him who needed him. If at one time, on your way to the Temple to bring your offering before the altar, you remember that your brother needs you, leave your offering behind, go back and seek your brother first.
The teacher of the Law stayed a little while to listen to Jesus… Then we saw him leave hesitatingly, until he crossed the Gate of the three arches, outside the Temple of Jerusalem….
Many times, when Jesus was in Jerusalem, he would talk to the people in the atrium of the Temple, using words that were easily understood by all. The lectures of the scribes and doctors who taught in those places were always vague and mysterious, as if to distinguish the “learned” from the ignorant masses. With their moralizing interpretations, they had divested the Scriptures of all prophetic candor. A lay man, with no special education, who spoke the people’s language and who gave his own, free interpretation of the Scripture to his countrymen in the presence of the experts, was amazing to the people and irritating to the authorities in Theology. In this text, one of them precisely raises the question of interpreting the Law.
The question asked by the teacher of the Law is a theoretical one: Which is the fundamental commandment? Jesus does not respond theoretically, but he does so with a practical example, a concrete experience. The religious attitude does not only consist in accepting dogmas more or less, of knowing one’s catechism with its list of truths and moral norms. Faith is not only in the mind, it is also in our hands, in what we do. Faith demands work, concrete actions which are not only directed to God whom we do not see, but also to our brothers and sisters, whom we see. This is the essence of the message of Jesus, of the whole Christian faith (Mt. 5:23-24, James 1:22-27 and 2, 14-26; 1 Jn 3:11-18 and 4:19-21).
Jerusalem, being the capital, was the center of trade in the whole country. In spite of this, communication with the other cities was far from good. The city was separated from Jericho by 27 kilometers from the road down along the desert of Judea. In the bald mountains of Judea are found a number of caves and hideouts which have become havens for highway robbers up to the present. Banditry was then very common, and the authorities tried to control it, but it was not that easy. As a form of retaliation, the Romans would sometimes sack the neighboring villages. Apparently in Jerusalem, there used to be a special court that tried cases of looting and drew up police measures against the bandits. At present, the road from Jerusalem to Jericho is amazing due to its barenness, just like in those times. It is flanked by gray and barren mountains. There is a small chapel in one of the bends – the Chapel of the Good Samaritan – which is a reminder to the travellers of the parable of Jesus.
The priests passed through that road first. They had to go to the temple of Jerusalem by turns, in order to offer their sacrifice (blood of animals, incense, prayers). In money and social prestige, they were a powerful and privileged group. The Levites were under them in the service of the temple. They were not priests, so they could not offer sacrifices, and therefore could not go near the altar, like lay people. They were in charge of the music in the temple. They sang in the choir and played the instruments during worship. Others served as acolytes; they assisted the priests in donning their vestments for the ceremony, they carried the sacred books and cleaned the temple. Some of them who were trained in the Scriptures also served as catechists. Still others served as police of the temple. In Jesus’ time, there were about 10,000 Levites. For them as well as for the priests, the Temple in all its service, its splendor, was the fundamental value, the foremost religious obligation. The laws on purity prohibited them from getting near a corpse. By giving all sorts of excuses – ritual purity, haste, the contempt they felt for “the people” – the Levites did not help the wounded man along the road. By doing so, they thought they were doing something pleasing to the Lord.
Having a Samaritan as the third character in his story, Jesus surprised everyone and irked the theologian who had asked him the question. The Samaritans were highly discriminated against by the Israelites who felt a great disdain for them, a mixed feeling of nationalism and racism. Furthermore, the Samaritan cited here by Jesus is not in any way a religious man. He is an atheist who believes neither in God nor in the priests, nor in anything. Using this as an extreme example, Jesus responds to the theoretical question expounded by the doctor: he who loves his wounded neighbor loves God. This is enough. And it is not necessary to perform this charitable act “for the Lord,” but for one’s neighbor. Thus, an outcast, an atheist, and a despised mestizo are shown to be one who is authentically religious. Viewed as something extremely scandalizing, the parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most subversive of the parables of Jesus.
The original word employed by Jesus in this parable is not “neighbor” but the Greek word “plesion” which is equivalent to “rea” (in Aramaic) and to our “companion.” In Jesus’ time, it was understood that in order to please God, it was necessary to do good to others, but the question was raised as to who were one’s “companions,” supposedly the object of this charity. The pharisee excluded from their love those who were not like them, the gang of rogues; the Essenes took out “the children of darkness” (= the fishermen); many Israelites excluded the foreigners; others, their personal enemies. The “companion” – according to the story – refers to anyone, because he is such, who is in need. The last part of the parable shows us who the real “neighbor” is. The atheist who went to the wounded man becomes his neighbor. A neighbor is not only one whom we meet on the road, but also one in whose road we place ourselves. True love demands an active attitude of solidarity, of reaching out, and reconciliation.