In today's Gospel, Jesus gives us the straightforward direction about how we may attain to eternal life. He sums it up in the quotation "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. The duty towards God is quite clearly set forth, but to be explicitly clear, who then is one's neighbor? The parable of the Good Samaritan is meant to be an eminent explication which no one could misconstrue. The priest and the Levite, who consciously evade any contact with the man who had been mugged and left for dead, were consciously chosen as types, who should have taken a positive action towards the victim.
The Priests were a class of people who offered the Temple worship and sacrifices for the Jewish nation, the Chosen People of God. The Levites were the tribe set aside by God for the work and worship in the Temple. Both were in the intermediary position between all of the people and God, conveying prayers and sacrifices to cover the sins of the people and prayers for their general welfare. Set high in honor, men of this rank in society were the first choice for reading certain scriptural readings in the local synagogue worship.
What Jesus was trying to convey was that these people, held in high esteem among the nation, should have been the first to see to the welfare of an innocent victim. As their rank was to be of service to all and to plead to God for such, lack of concern on their part was tantamount to negligence of duty. Not wanting to get involved and the withholding of compassion, rather was a condemnation of them.
The Samaritan was chosen also as a type. As this people, though with Jewish origins, did not hold with the whole scripture nor worshiped at the Temple in Jerusalem, they were considered gross heretics. Samaritans as well as the pagan gentiles were to be avoided as much as possible and the judgment of God, enshrined in the Law of Moses, backed this up. Jews shunned Samaritans and on the opposite side Samaritans kept away from the Jews. For an outcast, Jesus honored the good Samaritan because in his compassion and humane treatment of a fellow creature, love of neighbor surmounted the barriers between the peoples. Given this extreme contrast, one's neighbor is to be delineated as all men in general, even those seemingly among the outcasts.
To say that we love God and yet withhold our compassion from fellow creatures then is a judgment upon us. Let us look into our own life and our relation with others to see if we are offensive due to withholding compassion or treat our neighbor shabbily.
Fr. John W. Harvey