We all know about the antagonism between the Jews and the Samaritans. One time Jesus and some of His disciples were on their way to Jerusalem and looked for lodging in a Samaritan town but because they were heading for Jerusalem they were refused hospitality. Because of this deep animosity there was no love lost between Jews and Samaritans.
Jesus grew up influenced by that animosity. The Samaritans were different, they were to be avoided. It took Him time to overcome this mind set as it took him time to overcome the normal mind set of the place of women in society. It took Him time to see the goodness in these people who practiced a faith close to but different from His own. Faced with the formalistic, lifeless religious leadership of His day, the strict observance of formalities, He would point to the Samaritans, the outsiders, as examples of those who lived their faith in God in far deeper ways than His own people.
We all know good people who do not share our faith but who live lives that express our faith better than we do ourselves in their compassion and care for others, in their sense of justice and fairness. In many ways they put us to shame.
Jesus often uses the Samaritans as examples of good people who are far better at living out the spirit of the law than His own people who gave the Law nothing but lip service. It was more than annoying to the scribes and Pharisees to have these heretics praised by Jesus. Today’s gospel is one example of such praise and then there is the example of the good Samaritan who cared for a total stranger, a stranger the priest and Levite avoided as much as possible lest they become unclean. We have the example of Jesus breaking the taboo of talking with the Samaritan woman at the well and offering her a new vision of both their faiths.
After cleansing the ten lepers from their dread disease Jesus tells them to go show themselves to the priests who would verify their being clean and welcome them back into the very society that excluded them. The cleansed Samaritan would not have been accepted by the priests so he doesn’t bother going, instead he returns to Jesus to thank him for the way in which He turned his life around.
There were other occasions when Jesus involved Himself in the lives of people who were non Jews. The Syro-Phoenician woman whose daughter was so ill. She begged Him for help and He cured her daughter and praised this woman’s great faith.
So often when we hear this gospel we think that its main point is the need for gratitude. We admire the effort of the Samaritan to come back to Jesus and thank Him, we wonder at the ingratitude of the other nine.
Maybe we could hear this gospel from another point of view- the view of Jesus as he recognizes and praises the goodness of this Samaritan, just as He recognized and praised the faith and generosity of others who did not share His Jewish faith and traditions. Jesus knew that God lives and loves in and through the lives of men and women who did not share His faith. He knew that God was praised and manifested in the lives of good people of any nationality. Peter came to that conviction through his association with the pagan Cornelius when he said, ‘the truth I have come to realize is this, that any person of any nationality who does what is right is acceptable to God.’
As we continue to celebrate this Eucharist together, we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we be graced to understand this awesome truth; that God’s grace and love and power is not confined to the Catholic church, nor the Christian faith and that good men and women of other faiths and even no faith are the instruments of God’s love and grace and mercy, in this world, maybe even to us.