The parables suffer from our familiarity with them. That familiarity, however, may be more superficial than intimate.
It is important to remember that the priest and the Levite mentioned in today’s Gospel were bound to fulfill their cultic obligations for the good of the people, obligations they couldn’t fulfill should they be defiled by a corpse. They couldn’t risk investigating whether this traveler from Jerusalem to Jericho was dead or not.
By contrast, the Samaritan, already an outcast and never allowed anywhere near the Temple, had nothing to lose.
Admitting that, though, invites criticism of a religious culture that could so seriously invert priorities. I mention the rationalization for their failure to get involved to make myself question the excuses I employ to invert important priorities.
The central question remains, “Who is my neighbor?” The Evangelist claims that the scholar only asked it to justify himself but Jesus certainly takes it seriously!
To answer it anew and to answer it substantially, I suggest that each of us re-explore this story, using our imaginations to place ourselves into it—not as another passer-by, but as each of the characters. For every one of us has acted at some time like each of them.
Let me remember those actual instances when I was the Levite or when I acted like the priest.
I’m sure that we all have reacted in some circumstance like the Samaritan. At other times, my role may have been to play the part of the inn-keeper, who actually cared for the robbers’ victim.
And, of course, we’ve all been that man who fell victim to robbers. How did I arrive at such an impasse? Who bailed me out? How did that shape my understanding of a real “neighbor”?
This exercise will probably be uncomfortable! But then I’ll truly be able to answer for myself, who my neighbor is.