The Loss of the Inheritance of Eternal Life

Jijo Kandamkulathy, CMF

Claretian Publications, Macau


Lk 10:25-37

The Good Samaritan is one of those many stories that challenged established ideas, like the Prodigal Son, the Great Banquet, and Lazarus and the Rich Man, that Jesus told. The heroes of these stories are usually the rejected and discriminated people. They are subaltern stories.

The title of this story, “The Good Samaritan,” is an oxymoron. An oxymoron is a phrase in which one word contradicts the other. A typical example is “circular square.” Only one of those could be true; a shape could either be a circle or a square. You cannot have both. “Good Samaritan” is like an oxymoron for the Jewish mind. One can either be “good” or a “Samaritan.” “If one is good, he is not a Samaritan” is how Jewish thought was. The Jews hated the Samaritans from the time the Jewish people returned from the Assyrian deportation. While they were trying to rebuild Jerusalem, the Samaritans had disrupted the reconstruction. The Samaritans were the Jews who had remained in Jerusalem and had intermarried with the Assyrians and other foreigners.

The story was given as an answer to an apparently innocent question of a lawyer. “What should I do to inherit eternal life?” The question of the lawyer is pretty loaded and legal. It is not simply a question about how I can go to heaven, but to get the right of property in heaven. Inheritance is something that the father in the Jewish tradition gives to his son. It is the right of the son to inherit the father’s property. To inherit eternal life, then, means to become an heir of heaven. The hidden question here is, “How can I become the son of God with an inalienable right of inheritance of heaven?” In the beatitudes, Jesus mentions three categories of people who will have the right of inheritance to heaven: the poor, the peacemakers, and those who suffer injustice (Mt 5).

There was another rich young man who approached Jesus with a similar question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10: 17). Jesus asked him to give away what he had. He went away clinging to his possessions of this world. Readiness to renounce was a prerequisite in that story to inherit eternal life. In this story, Jesus adds one more method, compassion for the needy. As the legal debate of clarifying terms proceeds, Jesus starts redefining who is a neighbor.

We are used to the definition of neighbor as the one who lives next door. Jesus redefines that concept of neighbor. It does not mean someone living in our physical proximity but an attitude of the mind of feeling close to the needy. In the story, one becomes a neighbor by taking care of anyone who is in need.

One of the mistakes that we could make in reading the story of the Good Samaritan is to read it as a story of an exemplary individual helping a poor hapless man on the road. In that case, the additional characters of the priest and Levite would have been pointless, so also the community (Samaritans), that the man who helped came from, would have been irrelevant. The story is much more complex and deeper. This is a story against prejudices and ritualism of religion.

The priest and the Levite would become impure to celebrate the rituals if the wounded man died in their hands. So they ignore him. The observance of their religious rules prevented them from helping a person who needed their help urgently. The Samaritan who had no compulsion for ritual purity stops to save the man in distress. The story exposes how the ritualism of the Jewish religion had made it irrelevant and unproductive. It also highlights how a person who in the Jewish perspective is uncivilized had compassion in his heart and saved the wounded man.

What is scary today is the rules and regulations we make to excuse our indifference to the sufferings of others. If the suffering person is from my country or region, shares my ethnicity, speaks my language, I become more sensitive. If they are not, I am relieved of any guilt for my insensitivity and apathy! Invisible prejudices prevent us from taking care of others.

How prejudices created by religion, race and social classifications interfere in our natural tendency to help people. Natural human tendencies are love and compassion. Hatred and discrimination are learned behaviors. It is good to guard ourselves from becoming contaminated with acquired hatred and apathy.

The story concludes that the Jewish religion has lost the inheritance of eternal life and those who gained it are the Samaritans. Who will suffer the loss of inheritance in our times? Who will be the gainers?

(Image: CCXpistiavos at