By Griff Ruby
Once, when the Pharisees were particularly unhappy with Jesus, they said to Him, "You are a Samaritan and have a Devil!" (John 8:48) What did that mean? And who were the Samaritans. In the time of Christ, Israel had come to be a double nation, two separate portions with some other nation in between, sort of like Pakistan in more recent decades, before one of the portions renamed itself Bangladesh and became a separate country. With Pakistan, the country in between the two portions was India. In the case of Israel, between the Galillean portion to the north and the Judean portion to the south, the nation in between was Samaria.
Samaritans were a mixed group, believed to have been the descendants of intermarriages between Jews and local Gentiles, notably the Philistines, Edomites, Syrians, and Moabites. The Samaritans had a relatively simple faith, almost that of the Jews, but using only the Torah (five books of Moses), rejecting the "writings" (Psalms and other historic, poetic, and metaphorical works) and the "prophets" (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and so forth to Malachi). Their worship focused towards a mountain in Samaria rather than the mountain in Jerusalem, and their version of the Torah differed from the Jewish Torah in naming this mountain as the center of their worship.
So what were Samaritans to Jews? They were considered better than Gentiles, but inferior to Jews. They were permitted to travel rather freely in the two parts of Israel because the Israelites themselves were often constrained to pass through Samaria on their way from one part to the other. However, Jews and Samaritans did not mix, socially. The Jews did not want to risk their social position by being associated with inferior persons, and the Samaritans wanted as little as possible to do with the snobbish Jews who thought themselves better than they.
So what were the Samaritans? What are they for our interest today? The Samaritans are the second-class citizens of life. In modern America, we have an ideal of treating everyone the same, no second class citizens, officially. While this is a noble ideal, we all know where we and others around us have failed to live up to its demands. An unusual Bible "translation" of some years back, called the "Cotton-Patch Bible," aimed at Americaís Old South ("dixieland") well illustrated the true meaning of Samaritans in New Testament era life. In the Cotton-Patch Bible, Samaritans are called "negroes" and Jews (in relation to the Samaritans) "whites."
In America, in the Old South, the negro has very much been regarded as the second class citizen, many former slave owners and their familial descendants having never quite forgiven "their" slaves for being freed. But all over the world and throughout time there have always been the second class citizens of life. During World War II it was the Japanese in America who were the second class citizens, and who were rounded up into "relocation centers." And throughout much of the twentieth century, it has been hispanics and philippinos who have worked the fields, labor that the more snobbish and elite "first class citizens" were unwilling to do.
Throughout much of history the Jews themselves have been the second class citizens as they wandered throughout the world in exile from their middle-eastern homeland, driven here and there and even killed off in pogroms and death camps. For there were not only the death camps of Germany, which we all well know, but similar death camps in Stalinist Russia, which latter function to this day, as Solzienitzen has reported and described in his books about his life in the Gulag.
What did Jesus think of the second class citizens of his day, the Samaritans? It is interesting to note that nearly every reference to them in His words is favorable, and even where not, mercy is shown.
Most famous of His words regarding the Samaritans are His parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:30-37) As we recall, a man, a Jew, presumably, was attacked, robbed, and left for dead by some robbers. An Israelite priest and Levite each walk right past him and despite their nominal "holiness," neither one helps him in any way. But then the Samaritan comes along and he is the one who took pity of the poor man and helped him. Why a Samaritan? It could have been just anybody; after all this is merely a parable or story Jesus told to explain His point about "loving thy neighbor."
Exactly because Samaritans were the second-class citizens of life. Why should such be praised at all unless they do clear good, as the Jews saw it. But real life bears this out in that it is often the poor and rejected of society who are first to come and help a person in need, not the important who are too wrapped up in their business to take the time to show a kindness to some stranger they encounter. Even in almsgiving, the poor are often far more generous than the rich, certainly percentage-wise, and sometimes even in total objective amounts given. To be second class is to understand what it is to be in need, and therefore to be all the more ready to help others in need.
Another account is that of the ten lepers he healed. (Luke 17:12-19) Jesus healed 10 lepers, and all 10 were healed, but only one of them came back afterwords to thank Him, and that ex-leper was a Samaritan. On what rare occasions someone from the first class (Jews in this case, of which Jesus was one) should actually bestow a genuine kindness upon those of the second class, that is so unusual that gratitude is always shown on such occasions. To be second class means to know that no one owes them anything, nor any consideration, and when such is received, to be properly grateful.
Then, there is His well-known encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. (John 4:7-26) Jesus waits at Jacobís well while His disciples go shop for food, and encounters a Samaritan woman who has also come to draw water. He asks her for some water and she responds in a manner that readily conveys the resentment that Samaritans often feel for Jews, as if to say, "Whatís the matter with you; donít you know that you Jews would never have anything to do with us Samaritans; you all think your are too good for us!"
Indeed, this might explain Jesusí great mercy towards a Samaritan village which rejected Him, sight unseen, (Luke 9:51-56) simply because He was a Jew. His disciples wanted to call down fire from Heaven against the Samaritan village, but Jesus understood how the Samaritans felt and took pity on them, and spared them.
But back to His encounter with the woman at Jacobís well, Jesus continued His conversation with the woman, showing not only His teaching about living water, but also His willingness to talk with her as a fellow human being rather than as some sort of inferior, and it is even to her that He first explicitly revealed His claims to being the Messiah. Often it is those in the second class level of society who are the first to see the truth, whereas those in the first class, and most of all in the positions of power who are most insulated from the truth.
The vow of poverty isnít only about detachment to earthly things (although certainly that is the main goal and purpose of it), but also about being able to see all in their true colors. Only those who are truly good are good to those who are "nothing" in society. The other sort are only good to those who can help or hurt them, and almost everyone is good to those in power for they fear for their own position which the person of power has such control over. You want to know who is truly good and who is only pretending? Be Nothing; for he that is Nothing sees all. Blessed indeed, are the poor.
Also, in His conversation at the well, it becomes clear the unhappy life the poor Samaritan woman has had, namely that she has had five husbands, and is now with yet another man. How often one finds such tragic situations among the second class citizens who are often at the mercy of social and economic factors the rest of society know nothing about. Clearly, it is not a dissolute life that she has led, but only her bare survival that she has been passed from man to man; Jesus in no way holds any of that against her. But do we not often see the same things today among todayís second-class citizens?
Finally, we return to the verse at the beginning where His accusers even accuse Jesus of being a Samaritan, and of having a demon. As to the accusation about having a demon, that would have to be the subject for another talk, but by allowing this reference to enter into the permanent record of the Church, the Bible, Jesus thereby symbolizes His own "Samaritan-like" status, for He is not only Master, but also the servant of all servants. How many times have we asked Him to do things for us, and He has: "O Lord, please help my child get well; please assist So-and-so on their journey; Help So-and-so find a job so he can support his family," and so on.
So if our Lord can be likened unto a Samaritan, then we must also choose to follow His example, and thereby receive the mercy He consistantly showed towards the Samaritans throughout His ministry. And how is that? By being humble, knowing that we real Christians are destined to be the second-class citizens of life in a world ruled by the Devil, and accepting that role. We presume nothing; we expect no kindness, and are gratefull whenever it is shown; it is as I recently heard read from the Legion handbook. We approach the people we encounter with our hat in hand, so to speak, not the other way around; we approach them as an inferior to a superior.
I often like to think of the way that so many Jews have conducted themselves in a world that also treated them as second class citizens, hard-working, industrious, honest, keeping alive among themselves their ancient customs, ready to explain them to any who ask, but pressing them upon no one, being friendly, humble, and loveable towards all, until at last they could return to their homeland.
That is how we Catholics and Legionaries must also be.
Return to Main Next Level Up