Last Sunday’s Gospel of the Good Samaritan never loses it’s ability to help us see the world in a different way. While most commentators like to focus on the activities of the Good Samaritan in the story Jesus tells, I like to focus on the interaction between Jesus and the “Student of the Law”.
We often see Gospel as a dry proclamation, but this incident seems to come to life every time I read it. My feeling is that this is much more of a street corner confrontation than a proclamation. The student is pushing Jesus by asking what he must do to get to heaven with full knowledge of Jesus’ answer. It is after Jesus reminds him about loving God and our neighbor that the student pushes again with a well planned response. “Then who is my neighbor?” Now things are getting a little edgy as Jesus launches into the parable which uses the hated Samaritan as the only one who responds with kindness.
This edgy confrontation is what amazes me, over and over again. The story is much deeper than the parable Jesus tells. It gets to the deep rooted need to identify someone who is not like us; someone who is NOT our neighbor. It is the loophole to hate, because if we have an “other” who we can stand above, then we can be better than them and be righteous. We have identity as someone who is better than, more correct than, more holy than the “other”. For some of us, that is all the identity they have and they cling to it, because what is left of us when there is no longer an “other” to hate?
Richard Rohr talks about this at length, partly because he is reflecting the teaching of St Francis. The recognition and letting go of our enslavement to possessions is the heart of the Franciscan response and no possession is as precious to us as our need to hate and be better than someone else. Our world bases identity and self esteem on what we look like, what job we have, what power we have over others and our ability to purchase. Without someone to be lesser, we cannot be greater.
This was the point of Jesus parable. There is no “other”. There is no one we can legitimately hate. In a short, street corner discussion, Jesus calls us all out with a radical readjustment of our identity and a lesson on the meaning of being a Christian.
Years ago, I was speaking to my Spiritual Director and complaining about a change in job responsibilities when he provided some of the best advice I ever received. He said, “By the time you die, everything you have and possess will be taken from you. Everything, except your relationship with Jesus. Put your time and effort in building that relationship”.