Sometimes when we see or hear something repeatedly, we stop paying attention. The story of the Good Samaritan could suffer that fate. The title is honestly given to anyone who helps a stranger. There are Good Samaritan hospitals, nursing homes, societies and even Good Samaritan Laws. We are encouraged to be Good Samaritans!

I invite you to take another look at this powerful parable, to dive more deeply into its meaning and implications for our Christian lives.

Jesus tells this parable in response to a lawyer’s question about how to inherit eternal life. The lawyer is off to a good start by responding to Jesus’ question — “What is written in the law?” — with the first lines of the Shema and the quote from Leviticus, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But here comes the big question: who is my neighbor?

Certainly, Jesus could have given an answer taken from any number of the Scriptures. There are many citations about love and care of the neighbor. Instead, Jesus tells a story. A man is beaten, robbed and left for dead. The priest and the Levite, who should have seen the man as a neighbor, walked by and steered clear of him. But the Samaritan notices and acts with compassion. Jesus explodes the accepted concept of neighbor as my kin or fellow Jew by making a Samaritan the hero of the tale. Let’s pause here. Jesus often has a twist in a parable. This twist is a real neck snapper! Jews and Samaritans really disdained, hated one another. Historical reasons went back hundreds of years. So think about a group that you see as despicable — as beyond redemption — that was the attitude Jews and Samaritans had for one another.

But the Samaritan goes 100 percent in helping the man: applying oil (soothing and expensive), wine (cleansing and precious) and bandaging his wounds. On a dangerous and difficult road, the Samaritan gave the man his own animal to ride. He even paid an innkeeper to watch over the poor fellow and give him time for healing. These details are important because Jesus is making the case that it was the Samaritan who knew how to be a good neighbor!

Jesus asks, who acted as a neighbor should? The answer seems obvious, but the question forces the lawyer to acknowledge that it was the contemptible foreigner who acted with compassion. (It’s interesting that the lawyer couldn’t even answer the question by saying, “the Samaritan!”)

This parable is so powerful in challenging us to see our neighbor in need especially when the person is marginal or rejected. It demands compassion that goes beyond polite or superficial care. Through the teaching of this parable Jesus calls us to expend our energy, resources and most of all our time and presence in service to the neighbor.

Pope Francis has a profound reflection on this parable in his encyclical letter, “Fratelli Tutti.” He asks us to reflect on the characters in the story and on how we are like each one. Sometimes we feel wounded or rejected, at times we have robbed others of their dignity or goods, maybe we have been bystanders — not wanting to get involved — and often we are Good Samaritans, helping and healing others. After pondering the actions of the characters, Pope Francis points out that all other distinctions fade away and there are only two kinds of people: those who care and act and those who hurry off. How do I approach situations where help is needed? How do I see those who are perceived as reprehensible or invisible in our society? “The story of the Good Samaritan is constantly being repeated;” we must open our eyes and our hearts to “persevere in love, to restore dignity to the suffering and to build a society worthy of the name.” (Fratelli Tutti #71)

The parable’s punch line: “go and do likewise” echoes the First Reading. Moses implores the people to heed the voice of the LORD and follow the covenant. This covenant is “very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.” Jesus heartily agrees!