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Mass prep – 3 points/30 seconds: What was the Samaritan’s mercy? Understanding the Greek

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Road between Jericho and Jerusalem

Fr. Paweł Rytel-Andrianik - published on 07/09/22

The Good Samaritan was the least likely to be 'good.' Why was he? Why are we?

The Gospel for this Sunday is here.

1. Jesus teaches us that a stranger is our neighbour 

Who is my neighbour, Jesus was asked by a scholar of the law immediately after the Teacher told him about the commandment of loving God and his neighbour as himself.

Jesus’ words came as a shock. He explicitly told the scholar that a complete stranger, a Samaritan, is his neighbour. We need to know that in the mentality of the Jews, Samaritans were so foreign to them that the Talmud reads: “a piece of bread given by a Samaritan is more unclean than swine’s flesh,” a symbol of impure food (Shevi’it tractate 8,10). 

2. Key words

A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.

The road from Jerusalem, which is located around 800 m above sea level, to Jericho, around 250 m below sea level, is very dangerous. The route of nearly 30 kilometres between the two towns runs through rocky terrain, full of caves, some occupied by robbers. Still, this was the shortest way to reach Jericho. 

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A priest descended downhill (Greek katabaino) after his service in the temple, on the way home.

A Levite “went out of his way” to pass him “on the opposite side” of the road (Greek antiparerchomai). Both presumably wanted to avoid ritual impurity through contact with the dead, as they might have mistaken the lying man. Unfortunately, ritualism was placed above mercy.

But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight.
He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them.
Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn, and cared for him.
The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’

A Samaritan is one we can least expect of being helpful. He is a representative of the nation commented on by St. John the Evangelist: “the Jews and the Samaritans avoided one another.”

Why did he offer a helping hand? The Gospel author says he “was moved with compassion” (Greek splanchnizomai),which means not so much an emotional reaction as profound commiseration at the sight of someone’s misery.

The Samaritan’s attitude of mercy is very practical. He offered two silver coins, which was equal to three weeks of accommodation, as suggested daily accommodation was about one-twelfth of a silver coin. Mercy was shown to trump the animosity between nations. A Samaritan, a person so foreign and distant, was shown to be a neighbour. 

3. Today

“Go and do likewise!” – says Jesus at the end of His parable. If we take Jesus’ words to heart, our practical mercy may help others, or even save lives. Who will I help today?

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