Wed, July 6, 202210 mins readFather Hans Buob

15th Sunday

Biblical Homilies on the Sunday Gospels in Reading Year C

Landscape with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, by Rembrandt van Rijn (ca. 1638)

Bible passages


Luke 10:25-37

There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read it?" He said in reply, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself." He replied to him, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live." But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?" Jesus replied, "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. But a Samaritan traveller 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.' Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbour to the robbers' victim?" He answered, "The one who treated him with mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

Biblical Homilies


"There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read it?" (cf. verse 25-26)

The parable of the Good Samaritan is a very well-known parable. A teacher of the law wants to trick Jesus and asks what one must do to gain eternal life. The introduction in Greek "kai idou" ((kai idou) can be translated as "and suddenly" or "surprisingly". This shows that a new point of view comes up at this point. It is about the actions of man in view of eternal life. This is why Jesus answers in v. 28: "do this, and you will live". In view of eternal life, the question is: What can and must I do as a human being for this?

The teacher of the law is not at all serious with his question. That is why he asks impersonally. This is not precisely translated here; it should read more literally: What have you done...? that is: What must you have done to receive eternal life? One, not I, so quite impersonally. But Jesus takes up the question anyway and answers it for all who listen. And he turns the tables: he directs the question to the questioner: not I, but you. What do you read in the law? The teacher of the law wanted to avoid the question with his "you" question. Still, Jesus turns it into a "counselling talk", so to speak, to get those listening to do something because: What I have to do as a human being to gain eternal life is a very decisive question.

So, the teacher of the law must now answer himself. Of course, this is embarrassing for him. After all, the law is God's will and needs no justification. It is certain and clearly defined. This also applies to us Christians today: I do not have to defend the Ten Commandments of God before the world today. They are the Word of God and thus the will of God. That is what the Bible says. We tend to look for a reason behind everything. This is quite legitimate and even necessary in the realm of nature and science, but we should be clear: For us as believers, the most important and best proof is the Word of God. The law is God's will. It needs no justification. Therefore, the teacher of the law who wants to tempt Jesus must also answer entirely in the sense of Jesus.

"He said in reply, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself." He replied to him, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live." (cf. verse 27-28)

The Jewish confession of faith, which Jesus' teacher of the law gives in response, emphasises the importance of loving God. Keeping the laws without the love of God makes the former inhuman.

In Greek, "agapein" (agapein), the divine virtue of love, is written again. We are to love God above all things out of the power that God gave us in baptism, in which he infused into us the divine virtue of love. Loving ourselves is a very crucial expression at this point. How many people cannot accept themselves? They cannot love themselves as they are. Be it that they do not like their appearance or that they cannot speak as well as others or do not have some ability etc. These people cannot say yes to themselves. They cannot love themselves. Because for that, I must first have a love for God. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart..." If I love God, I cannot hate His works and the highest work, that which is the image of God, that is man. That is me. I cannot love and acknowledge God and reject me, his work as if he had made a mistake. So, I can only perceive myself as something valuable from God and affirm myself as I am and not as I want to be. If I don't assert myself and keep telling myself, "You're no good." "You are nothing." "You're stupid." "You can't do anything." "Leave it alone." "You only have failure." etc.; then I can't love other people either, then I will also transfer this self-hatred to others. Then I persecute myself in the others. That is why this commandment of love is the first and most important commandment, in which all laws and commandments converge. This is what I must do: Love God above all things, and from Him see and love myself as I am, and then also love my neighbour as God created and willed him. This is the true "agape" (agaph), the divine virtue of love, poured into us and with which we can love.

Jesus, therefore, praises the teacher of the law for his answer. This is, of course, embarrassing for him. He had hoped that Jesus would not be able to give him an answer, but he refers to the Scriptures, to the Word of God, as the teacher of the law himself is supposed to teach. So, he wanted to trick Jesus, and now he has to answer in the spirit of Jesus and clearly say what has to be done, what is the most important thing on the way to salvation.

But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?" Jesus replied, "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. But a Samaritan traveller 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.' (cf. verse 29-35)

In the following, the teacher of the law tries to justify himself and suddenly switches back to the theoretical level. Jesus had immediately led him away from this impersonal "What must one do?" by asking: "What are you reading? You answer! He addressed him personally. Now the teacher of the law moves away again from this personal level, which is far too dangerous for him, and swings again to the theoretical level with the question, "Who is my neighbour?"

And there Jesus now brings this very well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. For a better understanding, one must be aware of the historical context: The man who is attacked comes from Jerusalem, so he is a Jew. The priest and the Levite who pass by and go on are also Jews. They come from Jerusalem and go to Jericho, the priestly city. And the Samaritan, of all people, this stranger in the Jewish understanding, even the enemy of all Jews, of all people, has compassion on the attacked man. So, the parable is very pointed and now answers the question of the teacher of the law, what to do to inherit eternal life.

Jesus deliberately lets two cult servants pass by, priest and Levite, who thus come directly from the temple service before God and go to Jericho. With the help of the parable and the quoted Jewish commandment, Jesus shows that love for God is expressed in love for one's neighbour. This is also the meaning of the word: "Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift." (Mt 5:23 - 24) I cannot serve before the altar, thereby seemingly loving God, as it were, and at the same time despise my neighbour and leave him lying there. The priest and the Levite see the assaulted man and "pass him by on the other side of the way". They are afraid of touching in any case because if they touch a dead person, they are unclean and can no longer perform the temple service. So, they pass by on the other side - a crying contradiction between love of God in worship and genuine love of neighbour. The law cannot resolve the supreme commandment, the divine, or often very human. To make matters worse, the person being robbed is also a Jew, one of them.

And this hated Samaritan, of all people, has compassion. He approaches this attacked Jew without asking about his nationality and helps him. In this way, Jesus shows that every human being is called to action. Jesus now reverses the question: "Who is my neighbour?" and demands merciful action from every human being. The question is not: "Who is my neighbour?", but rather: My neighbour is the one on whom I act mercifully. There is no limit to this, neither a national, a religious, or an ethical one. Therefore, the question: "Who is my neighbour?" is superfluous. Where there is a need, I am called to act.

"Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbour to the robbers' victim?" He answered, "The one who treated him with mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." (cf. verse 36-37)

With the last sentence, Jesus gives the teacher of the law an obvious answer to his first question: "What do I have to do to gain eternal life? And the teacher of the law can no longer evade this answer. Nor does he answer anymore.

But this answer of Jesus is, of course, also valid for us Christians today because we also ask ourselves again and again: What do I have to do? What is the most important thing to gain eternal life? That I love God above all else and accept myself entirely from God and am then able to accept my fellow human beings and love them as God loves them, with "agape" (agaph), the divine virtue of love infused in baptism.

Indeed, not every person is of such a nature that one spontaneously wants to fall around his neck, but with the divine virtue of love, I can accept him, help him in need, honour and respect him and do not have to despise him. The divine virtue of love, which the Holy Spirit brings about in us, helps me do this.