Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
This familiar parable of the Good Samaritan invites us deeply into the world Jesus lived in and which framed his preaching. Here are robbers on the Jericho road, a brutalized traveler, members of the religious elite, a merciful stranger from a despised minority, and an innkeeper with rooms for rent at a nearby crossroads. Jesus’ listeners would have assumed “God’s people” in the story, the priest and Levite, to be the bearers of justice and mercy. But the legal requirements of those times prevented them from approaching the wounded traveler. Blood, when shed outside the Temple, was considered unclean and could prevent a person from entering the Temple for worship or service. The two men were acting justly according to their own code, preserving their ritual cleanliness in order to serve their community. When mercy finally came, it came from an outsider in collaboration with a man of commerce. They responded in the presence of the moment to the person in need.
Pope Benedict XVI , in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, explores the nature of God’s merciful love and the Church’s role as bearers of that love. He acknowledges those who assert the poor need justice socially and politically rather than charity. Their philosophic rejection of charity as a legitimate response to suffering resembles the legalism of the priest and Levite in Jesus’ parable. Pope Benedict acknowledges that movements for justice are essential, yet he defines the church’s role in supporting these movements is through efforts to foster openness of mind:
"Interior openness to the Catholic dimension of the Church cannot fail to dispose charity workers to work in harmony with other organizations in serving various forms of need, but in a way that respects what is distinctive about the service which Christ requested of his disciples." (Deus Caritas Est, 34)
Most importantly, Benedict insists that Caritas—generous, spontaneous, merciful love—will always be necessary for meeting immediate needs in specific situations. God is Love. When we act as agents of love, present in times of need, God is also present in a particular way: God is felt. When we offer gifts of help or healing, we know we must be personally present in our gifts—offering our whole selves into the moments we share with friends, our work, our service to church and community. Faith makes that possible. While it is not always necessary, we should never be ashamed or afraid to speak of the source of our faith. In these situations, we can pray: “Give me the courage to mention the name of Jesus who motivates my actions of love.”
It is as though our lives are paintings in progress, each one a masterpiece already paid for by Jesus. Each of us has only one color to paint with, so we must lend our color to others to make their work whole and receive colors from others. If someone’s canvas is broken, we help fix it. If someone lacks a canvas, we help them get one. When we bring our painting to God when we die, God will judge us by whether our fingerprints and unique color are present on the paintings of others.
When we let Jesus give himself to us and align ourselves to him, we see those in need with the eyes of God’s heart and do what is needed to let God be felt. So we ask ourselves: “Am I available to the people I encounter each day, to my friends, my coworkers, and my family? Or am I always on my way somewhere preoccupied with the future or the past, with hurry and worry, and all my desires and obligations?
We also ask ourselves: “What does this parable have to teach us about the alienation of people in our country? About the events in Dallas and Orlando, Louisiana and Minnesota—or in our world, France, Germany, Africa—all communities affected by violence, whomever the victims are? How will we address the systemic issues of racism and mistrust of the “law” that affect our communities in different ways?
Jesus challenges us to connect with those who are injured and, like the good Samaritan, stop to tend wounds, to enlist each others’ aid in collaboration as he did with the Innkeeper. We must reach into our purses and our schedules to share the burden of caring. Like the Samaritan, we must promise to return again to those we encounter, to continue to foster relationships which, by God’s grace, overcome prejudices and boundaries built by fear, so that through our presence God’s love is made known to a world crying out for mercy.
Ms. Sally Orcutt, OP
with members of the St. Mary Magdalene Dominican Laity of Raleigh