TRUE NEIGHBOUR IS COMPASSIONATE
Deut 30:10-14; Col 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37
The story of the Good Samaritan is one of most popular stories narrated by Jesus Christ. It is known to Christians and non-Christians alike. Some people do not even know that the story comes from the Bible, but they have a pretty good idea of how the story goes. In fact, some states and governments have what they call “Good Samaritan” laws. These laws state that if someone is trying to be a “good Samaritan” he/she cannot be sued for he/her actions. Many schools, hospitals/clinics, charity institutions, etc., have been named after the Good Samaritan by Christian and non-believing proprietors alike. Today’s gospel narrates this story of the Good Samaritan. It is such a familiar story that one may tend to take its meaning for granted. Let us attempt to look at it with some attention and new freshness.
1. THE CONTEXT OF THE PARABLE
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus gives the classic answer from Deut. 6:5 (love of God) and Lev. 19:18 (love of neighbor). Everything else is secondary.
But wanting to justify himself, the lawyer asked Jesus further, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29). The parable which on which our gospel text of today is centered is the answer that Jesus gave the expert of the law. Jesus turned the question around on the lawyer.
Jesus tells the story of a man who was attacked by robbers along the road to Jericho. The road to Jericho from Jerusalem was a notorious road. It was a hunting ground for robbers. Three men met the victim in his desperation. The first two men, the Levite and the priest, came along the road, but they passed by the other side of the road when they saw the half-dead man. The third man who happened to be a Samaritan came along. The Jews and Samaritans were traditional enemies but yet the Samaritan stopped, cared and took him to an inn for proper care. At the end, Jesus asks the expert “Who was neighbor to the victim?”
2. WHO IS MY NEIGHBOUR?
The average Jew, in the days of Jesus, believed that a Jew was supposed to be kind and neighbourly ONLY to other Jews. People who were not Jews did not need to be treated with kindness or respect. (This mentality continues still somewhat in the middle east.) A neighbour was any fellow Jews who was in good standing within the Jewish community. In this light, no Samaritan could be regarded as a neighbour. Samaritans were seen as outsiders from the circle of Jewish neighbourly love. The Samaritan were considered by the Jews as outside of the Law. They had intermarried with pagans. Their practice of the Jewish faith was not as pure as the Jews. They did not travel to Jerusalem for the festivals, believing that they could worship God in other places. Samaritans were sinners because they were not as fervent in their faith as the Jews were, and so were not NEIGHBOURS to the Jews. Jesus sought to expand Jewish understanding without having to fight through their prejudice. That’s why he tells this story.
The question remains: who is my neighbour? The first to approach the victim was the priest, a fellow-Jew. He failed to attend to the man in need. He hastened past. Next came the Levite, another fellow-Jew. Finally, comes the Samaritan. He was a traditional enemy of the Jews. A breaker of the ceremonial law and sometimes described as a heretic man. But he is the man who helped and showed compassion and mercy to the robbed man. Jesus is upsetting all who hear his story that day. He gives high marks of care and generosity to the Samaritan. Notice how the law scholar replies when Jesus ask “Who was neighbor to the victim?” The law expert’s reply is “the one who treated him with mercy”. He cannot bring himself to say “the Samaritan”. That is how deep rooted and hideous his prejudice was.
For Jesus, neighbour means anyone of any nation, tribe and tongue who is in need regardless of his/her status in life. Furthermore, a neighbour is anyone who does not hesitate to extend a helping hand when it is sorely needed. Such a person is a neighbour to the person in need. EVERYONE in need is our neighbour. It is not just the people we live with or live next door, a friend or a countryman. A true neighbour is compassionate.
3. TRUE COMPASSION IS ACTIVE AND NOT PASSIVE
It is clear that the priest and the Levite would have had their justification for appearing uncaring. In fact, they may point out that they really cared and had concern but were impeded by some justifying reasons. However, it worth noting here that Jesus is making the point that true compassion is active. In the Letter of St. James we read, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:14-18).
It is amazing how closely the episode of the Good Samaritan reflects our world today, where many people are experiencing untold sufferings and pain while others keep themselves safely separated, yet expressing courteous concern! Take, for instance, the current crisis rocking the North West and South West Regions of Cameroon. The continuity of the crisis shows a lack of compassion in many sectors of our nation. The disastrous consequences that are becoming so evident seem to be unnoticeable by certain people in the national and international scenes. We often here people, living in comfort and plenty telling the desperate: “Give me a call if you need me.” Honestly now, let us ask ourselves, when is the last time someone in need gave you a call? And even if the person worked up the courage to call, would you be serious about helping? In life, we learn early how to say all the right words, yet deep down mean none of them.
Compassion should lead us to prayer but not JUST to prayer. Compassion may stimulate a true concern for another person, but it should also provoke action. Compassion is active. How many times have we seen a needy person and done nothing?
How many times have:
We ignored a tear in someone’s eye
We walked away when another was talking?
We raced by when we saw someone stranded on the road?
We resisted visiting someone who was sick and dying?
We sought to pay the lowest price possible for precious goods sold by a desperately poor person, when we readily pay large amounts for worthless goods sold by the fabulously rich?
We refused to help when we had it within our means to do so?
The parable of the Good Samaritan should make us a little uncomfortable too. The parable shows us that the bottom line in loving is not so much doctrine, laws, affiliations or office, but concrete service and compassion. It’s not those who are good in talk, but those who walk the talk, that are blessed and are worthy in God’s eyes. So, the message is: Stop talking, start loving.
Compassion is built on our spirit of love/charity. As human beings, love/charity is both our greatest gift and our greatest call from God. St. Paul’s hymn on charity might be the most beautiful in all of Scripture. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a charging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (Corinthians 13:1-3). Love must be active, not passive. To this effect, the Catechism of the Catholic emphasize: ‘Charity is superior to all the virtues. It is the first of the theological virtues: “So faith, hope, charity abide, these three. But the greatest of these is charity” (CCC 1826). Therefore, we must love all, including our enemies, and must show them love or we are without charity and therefore without God’s love.
4. CARING IS INCONVIENIENT AND CAN BE COSTLY
Imagine what was going on in the heads of the Priest and the Levite in the story. Both of them were “too busy”. They had other things to do. If they were on their way to Jerusalem they were probably going to serve their assignment at the temple. This was an honor. If they got involved with this man and he was dead or died while they were there, they would be defiled for seven days, and unable to serve at the temple (Num 19:11). The temple and its liturgy meant more to them than the pain of the man. It is certain that people would not be in need when it is CONVENIENT. A crisis will come in the middle of the night at a time when we really need a good night’s sleep. These times are tests of our faith. They are opportunities for us to show what is really important in our lives. But instinctively, we often MAKE EXCUSES instead of MAKING TIME. Inconvenience shall always be part of our human existence.
Furthermore, catering for people can be quite COSTLY. Look at the cost for the Samaritan getting involved! There was a risk that he would be viewed as the assailant. There was the risk that this man was a decoy (a trap) and he would be robbed. There was the risk that the robbers were still in the area. There was the cost of time. There was the cost of the oil and wine. There was the cost of the hotel. The compassionate person may pay an emotional price as well. It is hard to go through times sharing the burdens of others. Doctors, nurses, Social workers, Counselors, teachers often carry a heavy load. It is difficult to really care about others because these is always a price to pay.
Many people find it difficult to understand compassionate people. They take risks that most people would never take. They give away what most would cling to. They reach out and touch when most would hold back with folded arms. They do not usually operate on the basis of human logic. They don’t care very much about rules of safety. BUT THERE IS ALSO A PAYOFF. There is nothing more satisfying or that gives a greater sense of fulfillment than to help another person. There is nothing that solidifies a friendship like going through hard times together. The hard times show us what we are made of. They show us who we can count on. Indeed, it may be costly to care, but it is a price worth paying.
5. ST. TERESE OF CALCUTTA, AN EXAMPLE OF COMPASSION
One person who did follow His command to love was Mother Teresa. She had been a teacher occupied with her classes until one day, while walking down the street in Calcutta, she came upon a woman who was half-dead. Moved with compassion, she stayed with the woman until she died. That experience began her lifetime of service to poor and terminally ill people. The number of members in the community of servants that she founded is now in the thousands, serving in hundreds of countries throughout the world. Pope St. John Paul said of her, “The world has need of saints and witnesses, models worthy of being imitated. Suffice it to remember Mother Teresa of Calcutta, image of the good Samaritan, who became for all, believers and non-believers, a messenger of love and peace.”
CONCLUSION: This parable calls us to take some practical steps in our lives to be more caring.
a) First, we need to slow down. We are so busy that we do not have time for each other. We do not have time in our schedules for the interruptions that call for compassion. Let us work at “making time” to be attentive. We can do this by planning extra times at the beginning and end of appointments so that you are available to care. Parents, make time to be with your children and the entire family – maybe during meals, family prayer, helping in the home-work of kids, listening to one another’s worries and concerns, etc. In your neighbourhood, learn to call people by name, attend common meetings, contribute and share in neighbourhood projects, etc.
b) Secondly, we need to learn to listen better. This is something we all need improve on our lives. We often talk more than we listen, this leads us to ignore people and leave them in the cold. We need to hear what is said and what is left unsaid. We need to listen with our ears, our eyes, and our hearts. We need to learn to forget OUR AGENDA and to pay attention to SOMEONE ELSE. Sometimes, all someone needs is someone who will take the time to listen. Sometimes we don’t have to SAY anything. Above, all we need to take our eyes and ears off our PHONES! Increasingly, phones and other gadgets have come to take central stage in the lives of so many people, that there is no room let for care, concern and compassion.
c) Thirdly, we need to remind ourselves that we do not exist as an island. We depend on each other for our life and our joy. We need other people as they also need us. We must seek to reach out to others. We must get beyond our own personal cares and worries only.
d) We need to fight against prejudice of all sorts. When someone is diminished because of his/her race, colour, tribe, gender, income level, appearance, reputation, we should be there to stand with that person. We should stand up for them as an act of love and compassion. We should never be promoters of prejudice. God looks past these superficial measures. We know God cares even about those the world rejects.
e) Avoid hiding behind excuses: Excuses abound, as a way out of being committed. “This is none of my business.” “There are specific institutions to solve these problems.” “This is the task of the government – Social Welfare,” “I am too tired just now.” “I have done my own share; let others do something.” “Besides, this fellow does not belong to our own Church, tribe or meeting group.” “The fellow spends money on alcohol and drugs, why give him more?” “By the way, who knows whether this may not just be a way to trick me into the hands of bandits?” etc.
Finally, take special note: NONE OF US CAN CARE FOR EVERYONE. In fact, caring for people can be draining. We need help. Compassion and prayer go hand in hand. That is why Jesus prayed as much as He did. He loved being with the Father, but also knew He needed God’s strength and the heart of compassion that only the Lord could give. Jesus knew that if he didn’t spend time in prayer, He could easily be too concerned with building monuments than touching lives. If we want to be compassionate people and be considered good neighbours by those around us, then we would be wise to follow our Lord’s example.