Benny Nalkara, CMI
The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:29-37) has been one of the centres of attraction of the believers as well as the readers of the New Testament for centuries. Various interpretations of this parable are well received by them. Many interpretations focus on the compassionate aspect of the exemplary Samaritan which highlights the kindness that transcends the traditional barriers of culture and society. The attack on the structural and traditional dimensions of the religious systems is also discussed by many in the hermeneutical endeavours. Jesus, in fact was trying to answer the tricky question raised by the lawyer, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus reply in the form of the parable goes beyond the traditional legalistic notions of neighbourhood and gives a radicalized understanding of neighbour.
Transcending the conventional idea that “one who resides nearby” is the neighbour or restructuring the ethnical notion that “another Jew is the neighbour for a Jew,” Jesus declared that one who gives a helping hand to the one who is in need is the real neighbour. In this attempt, instead of projecting one from his own community as a philanthropist, Jesus opts for a Samaritan. And he utters his ever-inspiring “commandment,” “go and do like this.” What are the deeds of the Good Samaritan that we are asked to imitate? Luke the great artist has beautifully summarized the compassionate deeds of Samaritan in three verses (10:33-35) using a number of action verbs, which reminds his narrative skills. “The Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, `Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’” These action words tell us the best way of becoming a neighbour to others.
The imitators of Christ are called to emulate these actions of the Good Samaritan. In the age of busybodies who rarely care for others and prefers to “pass by the other side,” the Samaritan spent his time and money. In a context where all are worried about only themselves and try to be maximum self-centred, he turned to be an altruistic. In the world of takers, he stands out as an exemplary giver. In the world of exploiters, his self-emptying act is a sign of taking the side of the underprivileged and the marginalized. The “giving” attitude of the Samaritan which wins over his potential dangerous self-interest that may compel him to “take” or “possess”, is the remedial message for the society which is governed and guided by craving for wealth by using any unjust means. We are called to imitate him. When Jesus presented before us this exemplary act of the Good Samaritan and exhorted us to emulate him by “doing as he did,” he was reminding us of the fact that God doesn’t get involved in all the emergency situations of life where the wounded, the marginalized and the exploited are in need of help, but asks us to become Good Samaritans.
Jesus gave us three options to choose from the different characters of the story to be considered as the neighbour to the wounded person – the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan. But in real life situations, we often go for a fourth option. We try to imitate the innkeeper than imitating the Good Samaritan. From the modern day socio-economic point of view, the innkeeper functions as a care taker who is paid for his service. He makes the inn into a “charitable service organization.” In a way the care is delegated and the innkeeper is paid for the same. So, what he provides is a kind of delegated, institutionally-insured assistance. He doesn’t lose anything in that process. To take up the role of the Good Samaritan is always risky and demanding. On the other hand, the efficient, economical and trouble-free ways of ministry performed by the innkeeper assures safety and keeps us in a safer zone. We are tempted to be comfortable and contented with the role of the inn-keeper, the charitable service organization, which renders the institutionally assisted insurance.
To make a choice between the “safe” innkeeper and the “risky” Samaritan may put us in a dilemma in our pursuit of “going and doing like that.” If we are able to see the shadow of Jesus Christ, the “wounded healer” in the Good Samaritan, we would be in a position to make the correct choice.