Jesus is a wonderful storyteller. The parable of the Good
Samaritan is a classic story that has drama and unforgettable
characters. It’s crafted by a master storyteller. One of its
literary features of the parable is the repetition of the phrase
that describes the priest and the Levite. Luke says that they not
only did not stop to help the man, but that they "passed by on the
opposite side." Both did the same thing: "They passed by on the
People hearing this story would have made excuses for them. The
victim was left half dead we are told. If they touched the man and
he were dead they would have become ritually unclean and not allowed
to officiate, or participate in Temple worship, which their
positions required. Others will defend the two religious men saying
they were alone on a notoriously dangerous road. This could have
been a set up, a trap for a solitary traveler.
Jesus does not condemn the two who passed by. But he refocuses
our attention and tells about one person, a foreigner, who crossed
over to the other side and took a chance to help the victim. What is
it that makes people do such things? Is it only people of
extraordinary courage who are willing to risk everything, even their
own lives to help another?
A while back I read a story in Time magazine entitled, "A
Conspiracy of Goodness." Johtje and Art Vos were a Dutch couple who
risked their lives during the Holocaust to hide Jews from the Nazis.
They were part of a group called "Rescuers" that saved nearly
500,000 lives. When Johtje and Art were asked what made them take
such risks they and others responded in a similar way, a way that
sounded quite ordinary, "We didn’t think about it." One of the
Rescuers put it this way, "You started off storing a suitcase for a
friend and before you knew it, you are in over your head. We did
what any human being would do." Well, not any human being!
A study was done of these "Rescuers." It was found that they came
from all classes of people, educated and uneducated, rich and poor,
believers and even atheists. They were individualists. While people
follow the demands of society and their peers, these people weren’t
constrained by what others expected them to do. Family, friends and
society can exert pressures that restrain good deeds. The Samaritan
did not say to himself, "Well that man is a Jew. My people would
never help a Jew."
These "Rescuers" had a history of good deeds. They visited people
in hospitals, collected books for poor students, cared for stray
animals. Little good deeds were like training for the big deeds that
came their way. Many of the "Rescuers" had a sense of universalism;
they did not see Jews as "Jews" first, but as human beings.
The Samaritan did not see a Jew by the side of the road, he saw
an injured person. Draw your own parallels to our day.
The article was entitled a "Conspiracy of Goodness." Conspiracy
is not always a threatening notion, it means "to breathe with."
That is who we are as a church; we are a Conspiracy of Goodness.
We breathe together the same breath of God’s Spirit to do good,
regardless of who peoples’ origins, marital status, race, sexual
orientation, or religion. The Spirit breathes in us to make the
instinct to help others a natural response; as natural as breathing
in and breathing out.
Note in the parable that the Samaritan carried with him the
"healing ointments" of the day; wine for cleansing, oil to promote
healing. The parable suggests to us that with God’s Spirit we have
the necessary elements for healing and helping. We draw on our
natural skills, gifts from God and take the necessary steps to cross
the road to the side of the needy and dress their wounds.
We frequently get into talks on religion – all well and good. But
the parable is calling for response. The focus of the parable isn’t
even on loving God; but on loving neighbor. Fred Craddock, who was a
noted scripture scholar and homiletician points out that to ask,
"Who is my neighbor?" is to ask for definition of the object and
extent of love. Jesus’ question to the scholar of the law asks,
"Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’
victim?" This question shifts the attention to the kind of person
one is to be, rather than about who are, or are not, one’s neighbor.
Jesus’ question at the end of the passage is outside the parable,
it is his corrective to an improper question. We are a people of
another kingdom, we live by another standard. We are to be people
who act in love, love that has not drawn boundaries to include some
and exclude others, love that expects no "return on the dollar." The
Law of God (referenced in the first reading) is no mere code, yet we
believers are always tempted to legalism. So we have all these legal
questions, for example, "Does this Mass count for my Sunday
obligation?" The first reading suggests God’s Law requires true
interiorization, not merely strict conformity to statutes.
I like the symbols in the parable, especially that the Samaritan
"poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them." I am struck
that he had these healing elements with him as he traveled. We don’t
always get the chance to go get the supplies, skills, education, or
even another person, to help. We travel with what we need, thanks to
the Holy Spirit we are already equipped for healing. We draw upon
the Spirit that was given us at Baptism and we trust its presence as
we attend to the wounded.
Something in the Samaritan was moved, like those "Rescuers" in
the magazine article were. He did not go through a long debate about
the merits of this wounded person. Unlike the Samaritan, these days
our nation seems less "moved with pity." Even some Christians have
turned their backs upon the wounded, abandoned and sick at our
borders. Do we pass hard judgment on them or, like the Samaritan, do
we have compassion and respond to the wounded by the side of the
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
"We need the Spirit’s prompting, lest we be paralyzed by
fear and excessive caution, lest we grow used to keeping
within safe bounds."
—Pope Francis in, "Rejoice and Be Glad:
Gaudete et EXsultate," #133
command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote
for you. . .No, it is something very near to you, already in your
mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out."
We know what the command is that Moses refers to in the readings
today because the gospel, in Jesus own words, explains it. Moses
states that it is "already in your mouths" so that you might readily
talk about it and "in your hearts" that you might easily remember
it. Jesus declares the command to be the great law of love. For
anyone still wondering, both Moses and Jesus are talking about
exercising compassion. Compassion is the core teaching of all the
world’s spiritual traditions.
Mechthild of Magdeburg, who was a Beguine and a medieval German
mystic and poet, declares, "If you love Jesus Christ more than you
fear human judgment, then you will not only speak of compassion, but
act with it. Compassion means seeing your friend and your enemy in
equal need, and helping both equally. It demands that you seek and
find the stranger, the broken, the prisoner, and comfort him and
offer him your help. Herein lies the holy compassion of God that
causes the devil much distress." How many of us could extend equal
help to both friend and enemy? Yet, that is what compassion
I am on the steering committee for Campaign Nonviolence NC. We
are now in our fifth year of trying to promote nonviolence as a way
of life. A key part of nonviolence is compassion toward both friend
and enemy. This year we have chosen to address the violence of
racism and the necessity of dismantling today’s Jim Crow
nonviolently. As part of this year’s program, you are invited to
attend a gathering to view the New York Film Festival’s award
winning documentary: 13th this coming Tuesday,
July 16, at 6:30PM. This one hour forty minute film takes an
unflinching and well researched look at the 13th
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and tracks the creation of
America’s subsequently racially unjust system of incarceration in
our prison system while also revealing the nation’s history of
racial inequality. This event’s location is at Highland United
Methodist Church, 1601 Ridge Road in Raleigh. We will have finger
foods and popcorn for munching during the movie and a round of
Please come and bring your compassion.
Director of Social
Holy Name of Jesus
Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for
persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted
in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
said, "But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him
moved with compassion at the sight."
As a church we are a "Conspiracy of Goodness." We "breathe
together" the breath of God’s Spirit to do good, regardless of
peoples’ origins, marital status, race, sexual orientation, or
religion. The Spirit breathes in us trying to make the instinct to
help others a natural response; as natural as breathing in and
So we ask ourselves:
- Who are the "different people" that need my help and I have
- How can I bridge the gap between them and me?
POSTCARDS TO DEATH
to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an
inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form
it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Patrick Steen #0388640 (On death row since 8/28/98)
- Robert Brewington #0584095 (9/3/98)
- Rodney Taylor #0472274 (10/23/98)
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the
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