We are reading the second part of Luke’s gospel, where the evangelist relates Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. In this part Luke draws some elements from other gospels and adds some elements of his own. Like in today’s passage: the question about the two most important commandments of the law is common to the three synoptic gospels, even though in this case the question is formulated in a different way (instead of asking, in abstract terms, “Which is the first of all commandments?”, the scholar of the law asks more concretely, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”) and Jesus replies with another question, so that the lawyer is forced to give he himself the answer. He gives a correct answer, so much so that Jesus says to him, “Do this and you will live.” As if Jesus said, “You see? You already know what to do to inherit eternal life. Why are you bothering me?” Evidently, Jesus has understood that the lawyer is just putting him to the test.
The scholar of the law, maybe realizing that he has been discovered, tries to justify himself; and at this point he asks another question, this time an abstract one, typical of scholars, “And who is my neighbor?” If the commandment orders me to love my neighbor, I need to know who are those I should love. I cannot love everyone. Actually, the commandment does not say to love everybody, but just my neighbor. So, who is my neighbor? That question was totally useless, because the scholars of the law, at that time, had already settled the dispute: neighbor were all the Jews; foreigners were all excluded. After all, what does “neighbor” mean? “Neighbor” is a person who lives next to me or near me. So...
Jesus does not answer the question; he replies with a parable, one of the most famous and beautiful parables, the parable of the good Samaritan (and this is the element peculiar to Luke). The story is known: a man falls victim to robbers; the Jews, according to the commandment, should help him; instead, even a priest and a Levite ignore him. On the contrary, a Samaritan, that is, an enemy (do you remember the rejection of Jesus by Samaritans when he crossed their region?), takes care of the poor man. Please notice a detail: when the Samaritan sees the victim, he approaches him, that is, comes near to him. That man was not his neighbor, because they were enemies; but, approaching him, he becomes neighbor to him. That is why, at the end of the parable, Jesus reverses the question: the lawyer had asked, “Who is my neighbor?” and now Jesus asks him, “Which of these three was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” That is to say: the problem is not to know who is my neighbor to love; but to become neighbor to those in need, so that I am bound to love them.
This is the meaning, quite clear, of the parable. And Jesus invites us to do the same: “Go and do likewise.” But the Church has always seen another, deeper meaning in this parable. Practically, while telling the story of the good Samaritan, Jesus is talking of himself: he is the Good Samaritan of the world. That man who falls victim to robbers portrays the whole humanity: man, when was created, with his sin, fell victim to the devil. Nobody took care of him. It took a “foreigner” to come to his aid: One who was far from him—God—was moved with compassion (misericordia motus est) and became neighbor to him, becoming man he himself. Once on earth, he poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then, before leaving the world, he entrusted the poor man to the Church (the innkeeper of the parable) saying, “Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.” So, we have a reason more to help our brethren in need: not only because there is the old commandment “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” but also and above all because Jesus himself entrusted them to us, asking us to take care of them. Whatever we spend for them—never fear!—he will repay us on his return.