In his Encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” Pope Francis reflects on the parable of the Good Samaritan. In chapter two which is entitled, ‘A Stranger on the Road’, he applies the parable to the breakdown of human relationship in our world today and shows how we can bring about healing and wholeness by following the example of the Good Samaritan. He says, “The decision to include or exclude those lying wounded along the roadside can serve as a criterion for judging every economic, political, social and religious project. Each day we have to decide whether to be Good Samaritan or indifferent bystanders.”
Jesus, before telling the story, upholds the law which was so sacred to the Jews: When the lawyer quotes the law, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with your entire mind, and your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus tells him he is right and if he follows that law then life will be his. The law that Jesus is upholding is the one described in the beautiful passage from Deuteronomy which we find in today’s first reading: “The Word is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for your observance.” But for many of the religious leaders, at the time of Jesus, the law was written in stone and was unbending and unyielding.
In this parable Jesus interprets that law and expands it. He breaks down boundaries and crosses borders and portrays the Good Samaritan, the one who is neighbour to the wounded man, as a hated and despised outsider, a Samaritan, who was considered impure because of the disregard of his people for the law. How shocking this story must seem to the lawyer and those listening to Jesus who consider their neighbour to be fellow citizens of the elite and unblemished classes in society. Jesus, whom Paul describes as “Image of the unseen God”, while upholding the law, gives a new criterion for the law, that of Mercy.
Pope Francis offers us many examples of how we might identify with the different characters in the story, even with the robbers. Maybe we could really make this story our own by entering into it in meditation and allowing ourselves become or interact with a particular character, perhaps choose one that challenges any trace of xenophobia, homophobia or other intolerances to difference which may lie hidden in our hearts. The parable calls us to have compassion and respect for every human being so the following scenario might help us respond to that radical call of Jesus when he says, “Go and do likewise”: You are a Ukrainian Mother or Father whose son was killed in the war. As you walk along the road you hear a cry for help, and in the ditch you see a young Russian soldier, badly injured, his hand extended as he begs for help.* How do you feel towards him? What do you want to do? What do you actually do? Which of the characters in the parable do you become?
*You could substitute Ukrainian/Russian for any oppressed people and their oppressors.
We give you thanks, God, for today’s scripture passages which call us to reflect on the law hidden in our hearts and on Jesus, You present among us, who shows us through example and story how to be neighbour to those who need our mercy and who invites us to follow the example of the Good Samaritan when he says, “Go and do likewise”.
Sr. Marie Redmond O.P.