I don’t know if you have ever noticed this but Jesus often in his stories uses people who are models of religious piety is an obstacle preventing them from doing the will of God. In the story of the good Samaritan, a story we know so well, Jesus uses a priest and a Levite as examples of how our smug attitudes of what is right or wrong works against us. The Levites in the Old Testament were from the tribe of Levi and they were set aside to assist the priest in the temple. The Samaritans on the other hand were a sect whose theology was all wrong. In addition to holding to bad theology they were an inferior people in every regard to the self-righteous Jew.
So what do the holy people in today’s story do when they see someone in need? They see the man’s need but ignore it. Oh perhaps they are on the way to the temple to serve or perhaps they are going home after serving in the temple (Lk. 1:8). They have a lot on their minds as they think of serving God’s people or in a hurry to get home after a long day in the temple. It amazes me that their response to ignore the man is not just an oversight because they had something else on their minds. The scriptures are clear they saw the man in need and crossed over to the other side in order not to deal with him. How many times have you or I seen someone in distress in our churches, in our communities, on the roadside and we ignore them. Let someone else deal with it for a thousand good reasons to think that way.
We can be willfully totally blind to the needs of people around us. At the same time we are extremely vigilant and quick to chastise others who we believe are not as good a Catholic as we are. We love prayer chains but to actually go pray with someone we see crying in church – well let someone else deal with them.
This parable should challenge us to look at our own response to people in need. It unmasks our attempts to find holiness in acts of piety. It is a parable that should remind us how faith without works is empty. It also should remind us that we can also do charitable works without ever giving of our selves. It is easy to give money or even time to serve someone but to give of ourselves is when we truly serve them. I remember one parish that had an excellent outreach to the poor. They served a hot meal twice a week and were quick to let people know that they had been doing that for years. When I asked them if they ever sat and talked with the people they served the answer was no. They felt no need to talk with the people they served after all they were giving them a hot meal. They were preforming a service but ignoring the person they served.
Jesus had to remind people who were fond of proclaiming all they did in his name that more is required than service. He said to them: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father” (Mat 7:21). And the will of the Father is not just that we abstain from doing bad things but that we actually fulfill our obligation to love and works of mercy. It is stunning that the only sneak preview of the last judgment given us in the four gospels shows people condemned not because they were murderers or adulterers but because they failed to do works of mercy. (Mat 25:36ff).
The Samaritan in today’s gospel gave more than a few coins and a few hours of time. He saw a person in need and responded with a touch, a word, concern and compassion. There are needs all around us but like the priest and Levite we are too busy with “church stuff” to see the lonely among us; the heart broken among us; the despairing and forgotten sitting next to us in Church each week. We do not have to go out to the highways and byways to find people who have been robbed of dignity sitting in the pew next to us. We do not have to go beyond our church pews and families to find people thirsting to know the touch of forgiveness. We do not have to go beyond our church pews and families to find people beaten up by gossip and hungry for acceptance. We do not have to go beyond our church pews and families to find someone who is ignored and unwelcomed. We do not have to go far to do the work of loving neighbor as ourselves.
This is the year of mercy so let us be merciful and seek to restore and build up those in our faith community. Let us seek to minister to those in our own community who are struggling and sitting on the roadside hoping someone will help them. Let us remember what is required of us who call ourselves Christian is to be Christ to all.