Are you good? I don’t mean are you well, but are you good? Every so often, at a funeral homily, I will say about the deceased, “He was a good man!” or “She was a good, good person!” I am sure there are people you know about whom you say, “He or she is a good person!” What does it mean to be good?
In today’s gospel we have what is popularly known as the parable of the “Good Samaritan.” That was not the name Jesus gave the Samaritan, but we know the parable as the “Parable of the Good Samaritan.”
On the periphery, the parable of the Good Samaritan is a simple story. It is not. However, today, I am going to keep the complexity aside and keep it simple. I am not going to talk about the fact that it was a scholar of the law who questioned Jesus about eternal life. I am not going to talk about the history of the animosity between Samaritans and Jews. I am not going to talk about the reason Jesus portrays the Levite and the priest as the uncaring people. I am not going to talk about the risk Jesus was taking by making the Samaritan the hero of the story and portraying the Levite and the priest in a negative light. There will be another time for complexity.
Let me reflect with you on three simple points.
We need to begin where the story begins. It begins with a question. “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lk 10:25). It is a good question. It is often underrated, but I think the most important thing in life is to ask the right questions. The right questions can put us on the path to eternity. The wrong questions can put us at risk. If we were standing before Jesus, what question would we ask?
Today, what are our questions? Where do our questions emerge from – our mind, our heart, our soul? What do our questions have to do with eternal life?
Love and Love
Jesus approach to answering the question of the teacher of the law is brilliant. First, Jesus acknowledges the man for who he is – a teacher of the law. Jesus uses law as the vantage point. Hence Jesus’ question back to man: “What is written in the law? and “How do you read it?” (Lk 10:26). When the teacher gives an acceptable answer, Jesus acknowledges that the teacher of the law has answered correctly. The reason Jesus says, “You have answered correctly,” is because the man has an understanding of the spirit of the law. The man understood, like, Jesus that the law really is about love. In other words, the teacher of the law does not merely ask the right question but he also has the right answer. Here is the thing, people of God. If you ever have a question about eternity, the vantage point from which to discover the answer is “love and love” – love of God and love of neighbor.
Being Good – The Practical Implication of Love
I said earlier that the scholar of the law asked a good question. Even Jesus acknowledged that he had a good answer. But at this point the teacher of the law loses focus. Luke tells us, “But because he wished to justify himself, he said, “And who is my neighbor?” (Lk 10:29). It still is a good question. It is then that Jesus gave the parable of the “good” Samaritan.
There is only one questions that remains to be answered? What does it mean to be good? How do we define goodness?
Luke gives us an answer: The parable of the Good Samaritan not only tells us how to be good. It tells us how to be good like God is good. To be good is to be like God.
In portraying the priest and Levite in negative light, Jesus was not only critiquing the religiosity of his time, but also telling us that false piety is not good enough to inherit eternal life. Performing religious obligations do not necessarily make us good.
Eternal life is inherited by those who know that love is at the center of our spiritual and temporal existence. Our life with God and one another has to be solely guided by love.
Being “good” is the practical implication of love. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus defines love and living out of that love through goodness. Jesus teaches us not only to be good but to be good like God. To be good like God is to understand that the parable of the Good Samaritan is an insight into God’s heart.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is only a parable. The real story was acted out in real life on a real stage. We are the people who fell victim to the robbers. What saved us when we were left to die was not the law, not compassionless religiosity, not false piety, but love and goodness. God loved us in Jesus but love is translated into action in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
The real story takes us one step further. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, nobody loses their life. In the real story Jesus, the Good Samaritan par excellence, gave up His life to save others. That is the real story. That is true love of God and humanity. That is the meaning of being “good.”
I began with the question, “Are you good?” Jesus shared the parable of the Good Samaritan to teach us what it means to be good. But he not only taught us what it means to be good but showed us how to be good. On the altar we find the Good Samaritan. Today, he says to us, “Go and do likewise!” Eternity depends on it.
Fr. Satish Joseph was ordained in India in 1994 and incardinated into the archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2008. He has a Masters in Communication and Doctorate in Theology from the University of Dayton. He is presently Pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Helen parishes in Dayton, OH. He is also the founder Ite Missa Est ministries (www.itemissaest.org) and uses social media extensively for evangelization. He is also the founder of MercyPets (www.mercypets.org) — a charitable fund that invites pet-owners to donate a percent of their pet expenses to alleviate child hunger. MercyPets is active in four countries since its founding in December 2017. Apart from serving at the two parishes, he facilitates retreats, seminars and parish missions.