Thursday, April 5, 2007

Excerpt from Pope's New Book on Jesus

From Papa Razi Forum:

The parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10,25-37)

In the center of the story of the Good Samaritan is man's fundamental question. It was a doctor of the law - a master of exegesis - who asked it of the Lord: "Rabbi, what should I do to gain eternal life?" (10,25).

Luke adds that the doctor asked the question to put Jesus to the test. He himself, as a doctor of the law, knew the answer the Bible gives to that question, but he wanted to see what this prophet, who was not a Biblical scholar, would say about it.

The Lord simply refers him back to the Scripture that his interlocutor knows and lets him answer his own question. The doctor of laws answers by precisely citing Deuteronomy 6,5 and Leviticus 19,18: "Love the Lord God with all your heart, all your spirit, all your strength, and all your mind, and love your neighbor as much as you love yourself" (Lk 10.27).

On this question, Jesus does not teach things differnt from the Torah, whose entire meaning is contained in this double commandment. But now, this learned man, who knew the answer to his own question, had to justify himself further: The word of the Scripture is not in question, he says, but how it should be applied in life raises many questions that are debated in the schools (and even in life itself).

The question is: Who is our 'neighbor'? The usual response, based on Scriptural texts, says 'neighbor' means 'fellow national(tribesman)".

The people make up a fraternal community, in which everyone has a responsibility to the other, in which every individual is supported by the whole, and therefore should consider the other
"as himself" - part of that whole which assigns him a vital space.

Then what about strangers, those who belong to another 'people', aren't they 'our neighbors'? Scriptures exhorted the Jews to love even strangers, reminding them that in Egypt, the people of Israel had lived as foreigners. But where to place limits remained a matter for discussion.

In general, only the foreigner who lived on the land of Israel was considered to belong to the fraternal community. But other concepts of 'neighbor' were also widespread.

A rabbinical declaration taught that one did not have to consider heretics, traitors and apostates as 'neighbors' (Jeremias, p. 170). Moreover, it was taken for granted that the Samaritans, who a few years earlier (6-9 AD) had contaminated Temple Square on Jerusalem by scattering bones during the Paschal season (Jeremias, p 171), were not 'neighbors.'

So, to the question phrased in such a concrete manner, Jesus responded with the parable of the man who was attacked by brigands on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and abandoned by the wayside, stripped of everything and half dead.

It is a very realistic story because on that road, similar attacks occurred regularly. Along the road now came a priest and a Levite - both knowledgeable of the Law, experts on the great question of salvation, the service of which was their profession - and passed him by.

They probably were not necessarily cold-hearted. Maybe they were afraid themselves and were in a hurry to reach the city; maybe they were inexperienced and did not know where to begin to give first aid - especially since, it seemed there wasn't very much one could do to help at this point.

Next came a Samaritan, probably a merchant who had to travel this stretch of road often and evidently knew the owner of the nearest inn. A Samaritan - one who did not belong to the fraternal community of Israel and who was not expected to see his 'neighbor' in the man who had been attacked by brigands.

We must remember that in the preceding chapter, the evangelist had narrated how Jesus, on the way to Jerusalem, had sent messengers ahead to a Samaritan village where they wanted to prepare lodgings for Him: "But they did not want to receive Him because he was going to Jerusalem" (9,52f).

Infuriated, the Sons of Thunder, James and John, said to Jesus: "Lord, do you want us to tell them that a fire from heaven will descend to consume them?" The Lord reproved them, and they later found lodging in another village.

And now comes this Samaritan. What would he do? He did not ask himself what were the limits of his obligation of brotherhood, nor what were the merits necessary to gain eternal life. Something else happens. His heart breaks. The Gospel uses a word which in Hebrew means the matrrnal womb and maternal dedication.

To see the victim in that condition hit him 'in the gut', in the depth of his soul. "He felt compassion for the man," is the present-day translation, which weakens the original vividness of the text. Because of the flash of mercy that he feels in his soul, he becomes the 'neighbor', beyond any question or any danger. And so the question has changed: it no longer consists of establishing who among other men is my neighbor and who is not. It now concerns my own self. I become the neighbor, for whom the other is 'as myself.'

If the question had been, "Is the Samaritan my neighbor, too?", then in the given case, the answer would have been a clear No. But Jesus turns the question around: the Samaritan, the foreigner, considers himself the neighbor, and shows me that I myself, in my being, should learn what it means to be a neighbor, and that I already have the answer within me. I should become a person who loves, a person whose heart is open to being moved in the face of another person's need. Then I will find my neighbor; or better still, he will find me.

Helmut Kuhn, in his interpretation of this parable, goes beyond the literal sense of the text but nonetheless correctly defines the radicalness of its message when he writes: "The political love of friends is founded on the equality between partners. Instead, the symbolic parable of the Samaritan underscores a radical imparity: the Samaritan, who does not belong to the people of Israel, finds himself in front of the other, an anonymous individual, (it is) he who will aid this helpless victim of an attack.

"Agape, the parable lets us know, goes beyond any type of political order dominated by the principle of 'do ut des', replacing it, and characterizing itself thereby as something supernatural. In principle, agape does not just go beyond such orders but it overturns them: the first shall be the last (cfr Mt 19,30)(P 88f).

"One thing is evident. (The parable) manifests a new universality based on the fact that I, within myself, am already a brother to all whom I meet and who may need my help."

The actual relevance of the parable is obvious. If we apply it to the dimensions of the globalized society, then we will see how the people of Africa who have been robbed and pillaged concern us intimately. We will see how much they are our neighbors. We will see how our lifestyle, the history in which we are involved, has despoiled them and continues to despoil them. This includes above all how much we have harmed them spiritually.

Instead of giving them God, the God who is near to us in Christ, and gathering from their traditions all that is precious and great and bringing them to fulfillment, we have brought them the cynicism of a world without God, in which only power and profit count. We have destroyed their moral criteria so that corruption and the will to power become obvious ends. And this does not apply to Africa only.

Yes, we should give material aid and we should examine the life we lead. But we always give too little when we only give materially. Don't we see around us the man who is stripped and beaten? The victims of drugs, of human trafficking, of sexual tourism, persons whi have been damaged within, who are empty amid the abundance of material goods.

All this concerns us, and calls on us to have the eyes and the heart of a neighbor, and the courage to love our neighbor. Because, as we said earlier, the priest and the Levite went by perhaps more out of fear than indifference.

Let us learn anew, beginning with our intimate self, the risk of doing good, of which we will be capable only if we ourselves become 'good' inside, if we are 'neighbors', and if we have the ability to identify - within our immediate circle to the widest extension of our life - what type of service is required of us, what we can do, and therefore what responsibility is given to us.

The Fathers of the Church gave the parable a Christological reading. Someone may say: this is an allegory, an interpreetation that goes far from the text. But if we consider that in all the parables, the Lord invites us, always in a different way, to have faith in the kingdom of God, that kingdom which is He Himself, then a Christological interpretation is never completely wrong.

In a certain sense, (the interpretation) corresponds to a potential that is intrinsic in the text, the fruit that develops from its seed. The Fathers saw the parable in the dimension of universal history.

The man who lies by the roadside half dead and stripped - is he not an image of Adam, of man in general, who truly 'has fallen victim to brigands'?

Is it not true that man, this creature who is man, in the course of his whole history, has found himself alienated, tortured and abused? The great mass of humanity has almost always lived under oppression.

On the other hand, are the oppressors the true image of man, or are they not the first deformed ones, a degradation of man?

Karl Marx has described man's 'alienation' in a drastic way: Even if he never touched the true depth of alienation because he was only concerned with the material sphere, he nevertheless provided us an image of man who has fallen victim to brigands.

Medieval theology interpreted the two adjectives in the aprable about the victim as fundamental anthropological statements. Of the victim of an ambush, one says, he was stripped (spoliatus); and that he had been beaten close to death (vulneratus; cfr Lk 10,30).

Scholars refer to this two participles as the double dimension of man's alienation. They say of man that he is 'spoliatus supernaturalibus e vulneratus in naturalibus' - stripped of the splendor of supernatural grace, which had been given to him as a gift, and injured in his nature.

Now, this is an allegory that certainly goes far beyond the sense of the words, but it represents an attempt to identify the double nature of the wound on humanity.

The road between Jericho and Jerusalem thus appears as the image of universal history, and the man who lies half-dead by the roadside is an image of mankind.

The priest and the Levite pass him by - as the story tells us - which means that culture and religion alone do not bring any salvation.

And if the victim of the ambush is the image par excellence of mankind, then the Good Samaritan could only be the image of Jesus Christ.

God himself, who is, for us, the stranger far removed, has come along to take care of His wounded creature. God the remote has become, in Christ, 'our neighbor.' He pours oil and wine on our wounds - a gesture in which one sees an image of the saving gifts of the sacraments - and he brings us to the inn, the Church, where we can be cared for, and He pays for our care in advance.

We can calmly leave aside the single features of the allegory, which are different for each of the Fathers. But the great vision of man who lies alienated and helpless by the roadside of history, and of God himself, who in Jesus Christ, and became his neighbor - that we can safely keep in mind as the profound dimension of the parable which concerns us directly.

The powerful imperative contained in the parable is not thereby weakened, but rather brought to its total grandeur. The great theme of love, which is the true culmination of the text, reaches its greatest breadth.

Now, indeed, we must take note that we are all 'alienated' and needful of redemption. Now we must take note that we all need the gift of God's own redeeming love so that we too can become persons who love. We will always need God to be our neigbor, so that we in turn can be neighbors to our fellowmen.

The two figures that we have discussed concern each one of us: every person is 'alienated', estranged from love (which is the essence of that 'supernatural splendor' of which we have been stripped). Every person must first be healed and provided with that gift.

But then, every person too must become a good Samaritan - we must follow Christ and become like Him. Then we will live rightly. We will love rightly if we become like Him, who loved us first (cfr Jn 4,19).