“And who is my neighbor” (Luke 10:29)?
This question of the scholar of the law lines up with Peter’s question: “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him. As many as seven times” (Mt 18:21)? Both the scholar and Peter knew the letter of the law, but sought justification in following a minimalist approach to putting the law into practice. Jesus invites us to a deeper appreciation of the purpose of the divine law of God and that is to uphold the dignity of the person. Laws can be certainly unjust, and a mere following of the law for the law’s sake can wreak havoc on the human person.
Jesus made this point when he was challenged for even thinking that he would heal someone on the Sabbath when he said: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27). Time and again Jesus calls us to have the courage to resist keeping others at arm’s length. He calls us to be understanding, to take time to listen and be present to, as well as accompany those we encounter. Jesus calls us to be people of integrity. The Samaritan did just that.
The Jericho road was known for attacks, much like the survivor received who was left for dead. The priest and Levite may not have stopped to help because they might have thought the man was faking and this was a trap, or in the time they took to care for the man those that harmed him could have returned to abuse them. Each of them could just have been indifferent to the need of the person rationalizing that this man brought this attack upon himself. We don’t know the reason they continued on, but what we do know is that they did not stop to help. We do know that the Samaritan did.
When Jesus asked who was the neighbor to the man robbed and beaten, the scholar said, “The one who treated him with mercy.” The scholar could not bring himself to say the Samaritan, as the Jews and Samaritans had a long standing agreement of mutual loathing. Just remember a few days back when we read how Jesus sought hospitality from a Samaritan home, did not receive the invitation, and James and John were quick to want to implore God to send fire to destroy them.
What is being lost and what fuels much of our polarization in our present interaction with one another, is that we are forgetting the basic ground of truth, that each human being is created in the image and likeness of God. The starting point of any discussion must be a mutual agreement to respect the dignity of the person first and foremost. Why is the unborn allowed to die? One reason could be because the starting point is the right to choose, not that from the moment of conception there is a human being that is unique from the mother and father, who has begun to strive to actualize his or her potential. The only difference is he or she is only smaller and more vulnerable than we.
Why have parents and children, fleeing from violence and seeking a better life, been separated from their parents, why are these children still detained in tent camps for violating a misdemeanor? Why are children who have been born in this country, though their parents came here through unorthodox means being threated with deportation for their parents and themselves? They are not looked upon as human beings in need of our help, they are looked upon as illegal. How can someone, how can a person be illegal? They can’t, unless we label them so. This same stance is true also for refugees fleeing from war torn regions being refused entry. They are stopped from doing so because they are not looked upon as human beings who have suffered unimaginable traumas, but painted with the broad brush of being labeled as terrorists, radical Muslims, or just Muslims
How is it that children and women who are survivors of abuse are not believed when they muster the courage to come forward, and when, statistically, they are telling the truth ninety-one to ninety five percent of the time? The abusers are protected because they have access, they have power, and support who will seek to protect them or the institution they are a part of. The survivor is not the priority, not a person with dignity, but an annoyance, a problem that needs to go away, go back into the shadows.
How is it that oil corporations seeking to lay pipe lines that threaten clean water resources have more rights than indigenous peoples, how is it that opening up dialogue with the LGBT community considered inappropriate for those who have felt like they have been treated like dirt by the Church, and how is it that people of color who have been humiliated, profiled, and lost their life for nothing other than the color of their skin not have a right to protest and are labeled unpatriotic? Because in each of these cases, each are labeled and made out to be something less than human.
May we make some time to read today’s Gospel, the account of the Good Samaritan, prayerfully and slowly. It is important to us that we remember each and every person is our neighbor, a human being with dignity. In speaking to the US Bishops in his 2015 visit Pope Francis said: “And yet we are promoters of the culture of encounter. We are living sacraments of the embrace between God’s riches and our poverty.” Too many human beings feel and have experienced being abused, belittled, demeaned, dehumanized, unheard, lost, and afraid in our country.
Jesus invites us and gives us the power to love God with our whole mind, heart, and strength, AND to love our neighbor as ourselves. Who then is our neighbor? Human beings created in the image and likeness of God. Will we whip out the statutes and law codes, wrap ourselves in the flag; will we, like the priest or the Levite just walk on the other side of the road, indifferent or afraid; will we dig in our heels and embrace our fear and prejudices; or will we have the courage to encounter and walk with one another? The scholar said the neighbor was the one who showed mercy, the Samaritan, the perceived enemy. Jesus’ response to him and to us this day is to: “Go and do likewise.”
Painting: The Good Samaritan by Amy Watts
Link for Mass readings for Monday, October 8, 2018: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/100818.cfm