Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time| Year C
There was a lawyer who, to disconcert Jesus, stood up and said to him, ‘Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? What do you read there?’ He replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.’ ‘You have answered right,’ said Jesus ‘do this and life is yours.’
But the man was anxious to justify himself and said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was once on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of brigands; they took all he had, beat him and then made off, leaving him half dead. Now a priest happened to be travelling down the same road, but when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite who came to the place saw him, and passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan traveller who came upon him was moved with compassion when he saw him. He went up and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He then lifted him on to his own mount, carried him to the inn and looked after him. Next day, he took out two denarii and handed them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said “and on my way back I will make good any extra expense you have.” Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the brigands‘ hands?’ ‘The one who took pity on him’ he replied. Jesus said to him, ‘Go, and do the same yourself.’
The two travellers who didn’t stop to assist the injured man both “passed by on the other side”. They didn’t step over the man or walk around him – they put distance between themselves and him.
Distance limits engagement. Perhaps the priest and the Levite were keeping themselves outside the force field of the man’s need, because they knew that if they went closer his need would draw them into the situation. They were not without compassion, but at this time on this journey in the presence of this injured man they were afraid.
They may have been afraid of blood, afraid of misery, afraid of having someone die in their arms, afraid that they would not be able to save the man. They may have been afraid of being delayed in whatever they were doing or afraid of being attacked themselves.
They may have been afraid of the strength of their own compassion, which would be unleashed once they engaged with the man. Compassion might derail the plans they had for the day or even the week.