Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan in response to the curiosity of a young teacher of the law (a lawyer, if you will). He asked the question that many of us might also have been asking. “What can I do to inherit eternal life?” In reply, Jesus asked him: “What do you think?” The young lawyer said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself.” The lawyer, being a little suspicious and defensive, asked Jesus for a point of clarification: “Well, who is my neighbor? What do you mean, neighbor?”
The young lawyer was probably expecting a precise answer from Jesus, a clear definition, or attributes of a neighbor according to the social or religious convention. In humanizing these questions, Jesus presents a situation so the young lawyer (and we too) can find himself in it.
Let us go back to the story of the man who the robbers seriously beat up. Before the Samaritan came, two people passed by and ignored the wounded and dying person. The first was a priest and the second a Levite. Both were considered in the same circle and “friends” of the Jewish man. However, they did not help him. Instead, the third person who passed by, a Samaritan who the Jews chastised because of their long standing religious and doctrinal differences, stopped and saved the man.
We may be that wounded person who is in dire need of help. Jesus asks us to more fully realize that if we are all made in God’s image and God’s law is close to our hearts, we could see that our world is full of neighbors in need, not just those we approve of or would prefer to help.
Pope Francis, in his Social Encyclical on Fraternity and Social Friendship, titled, Fratelli Tutti said that “If the acts of the various moral virtues are to be rightly directed, one needs to take into account the extent to which they foster openness and union with others. That is made possible by the charity that God infuses. Without charity, we may perhaps possess only apparent virtues, incapable of sustaining life in common.”
In a retreat that I attended a few days ago, Bro. Dan Leckman, a Jesuit Brother, commented that we all see that even in the Church we have different perspectives on different issues. We have those on the far left or the far right. “Building up a faith community with people so radically different in their view than where we are sounds exhausting. But imagine trying to contemplate unity for the world at large. It feels and sounds downright overwhelming, especially in this divisive world we live in. It may be easier to just give up on those opposed to our beliefs, label them as hopelessly wrong, and do nothing about them.”
The Parable of the Good Samaritan invites us to have hearts of love for anyone who is hurting, even though they belong to another group that is opposed to us. It makes us recognize that honoring our humanity requires something more of us than an ability to mumble the law or recite the doctrines. It is more than engaging in arguments over sensitive religious, social or philosophical matters. We are invited to have the eyes and heart of God, and treat each other with equal dignity and respect. Everyone is our neighbor. Everyone, not just those we agree with or prefer to be around, but all those who need our love.
Fr. Dennis Gonzales