Recently I have become stuck on the story of the Good Samaritan. I can’t get it out of my head. What is more, I don’t really want to get it out of my head.
Most times I read it safely as an observer of a past event. Sometimes when I picture the scene, I unconsciously think of myself as the hero. But other times, when I enter in it, I am strongly challenged.
This happens most when I take myself out of the role of hero and become the victim… or the passers-by or the robbers. Then I almost wish I could unsee it, unhear it.
Since last October Jesus’ “story” has found a home in my heart to a degree I never expected. And it is all Pope Francis’ fault! I can no longer tame the shock of the story. What a challenge to change my way of thinking.
“A Stranger on the road”
In his most recent encyclical on human solidarity, Chapter 2, “A stranger on the road”, Pope Francis connects in a stark way the dots to my story today. It is also the key to understanding “Fratelli Tutti.“
Let me give you my “intellectual outline” of this chapter.
- The story addresses an age-old problem first described in the story of Cain claiming no responsibility for his brother
- Yet God and God’s messengers have consistently stressed that we should embrace as ourselves even the stranger, the foreigner.
- We must face the sad fact that we have too often clung to our limited notion of my neighbor as only one who is close to me
- Pope Francis challenges us to see ourselves as the three believers who passed by their enemy who has been severely injured
- Then he flips the script by fast-forwarding to today. He dresses the story in the clothes of a bad accident scene.
- With concrete examples, he reminds us the story is being retold each day in so many ways. It evokes our inner struggle in the face of another’s pain.
- Each day we decide whether to be Good Samaritans or indifferent passersby.
- He opens our eyes. We have all been at various times the wounded man, the robber, the passers-by … and the hated but good Samaritan
A shocking realization
If we understand how hated the Samaritan was, we see Jesus shaming his listeners to be neighbors who care for and come to one another’s aid… not just friends or even “good” people,
In this shocking parable Jesus challenges us not to decide who is close enough to be our neighbor, but rather see ourselves as neighbors to all, anyone in need. Jesus asks us to be present to each person in need of help, regardless of whether or not they belong to our social group. That is a shock whether we call ourselves religious or not, Republicans or Democrats, Proud Boys or Black Lives Matter.
Pope Francis reminds us that Jesus concludes the parable by saying: “Go and do likewise” be a neighbor to the other. (Lk 10:37). These words echo his command at the last supper… “Do this in memory of me”… Wash one another’s feet.
Of course, in the background lurks the realization that God sets the example in the person of Jesus, cares for all of us who have so little understanding of how radical is Jesus’ call to being neighbors.
“Come and see!”
My intellectual summary hardly does justice to how Pope Francis engaged me. I hope you can read at least Chapter Two of Fratelli Tutti. If you pray with it, you will be shocked at the radical changes it calls for. He unpacks them in the rest of his encyclical.