Doesn’t feel like we are in the twenty-first Century. As humanity makes progress, society is supposed to become safer, more egalitarian and peaceful. Instead, the kind of violence and turmoil we are experiencing looks like we are digressing. We have made unprecedented progress in the field of education, science and technology. Racial, religious and economic strife should be a thing of the past. Instead, a dozen more lives have been lost - civilians and police officers.
The story of the “Good Samaritan” that will be read in all Catholic Churches today as the gospel reading comes right after a tense and violent week in our country. The racial nature of this violence makes it even more tragic. Do you feel the same helplessness that I am experiencing? Where can we turn for help?
The parable of the Good Samaritan is a good place.
1. “Who is my neighbor?” The parable of the Good Samaritan was prompted by the question, “Who is my neighbor?” And really, “Who is my neighbor?” On the periphery, Jesus’ answer seems very ordinary. He seems to be saying that any person in need is our neighbor. But if we understand the hostility between Jews and Samaritans in Jesus time, then the parable of the Good Samaritan was proposed as a catalyst for social change. The hostility between Jews and Samaritans was not any different than modern day Israel and Palestine. If we really want to understand how shocking Jesus’ parable, may have sounded to his hearers, it is as if he was relating to us Americans, “The parable of the Good Taliban.” ‘In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus, a Jew, took the most villainized person of the Jewish society and portrayed him as good. The villain becomes the hero. The enemy becomes the neighbor. Jesus was trying to change how people think. As we hear the parable of the Good Samaritan today, Jesus is trying to change our thinking. If our society must know peace, our thinking must change.
2. “Doing Good is a Choice.” Even though this parable is called the parable of the Good Samaritan, there are other characters in the story. There is the victim who fell among robbers. We know nothing about him - his identity, his ethnicity, his religion, or his age. Does it matter? A victim is a victim no matter what his religion, race, color or class. Five police officers and other civilians have died in the latest violence in our country. Immaterial of their race, color or ethnicity, they are all dead and there is nothing we can do about it. And then there were those that did not stop to help the victim. The priest and the Levite let the half-dead man alone. And then there is the inn-keeper who carries out the instruction of the Good Samaritan and does his best. Folks, whether we like it or not, we are all actors in the parable. The brilliance of Jesus’ parable is that it puts the reader in the story. We are all actors in our society. We all play a role. In the conversations we have, in the attitudes we develop, in the judgments we make, in the steps we take, in the actions we carryout and fail to carry out… we are all actors in the parable. Whether we effect positive change, negative change, or are simply bystanders - it is a choice we make.
3. “Go do likewise.” The society of Jesus’ time was in turmoil. The dynamics of the relationship between Jews, Romans, and Samaritans made for a fragile society. Our society too is in racial, political, social, economic and religious turmoil. Something has to change. I said earlier, that Jesus proposed the parable of the Good Samaritan as a catalyst for change. After elevating the enemy as the neighbor and the villain as the hero, Jesus told the scholar, “Go and do likewise.” What do you think Christ is saying to us today? I think Christ is saying, “Go and do likewise.” This means that we do not generalize enemies. Racism and reverse racism originates from the generalization of the “other.” Stereo-typing black people, white people, police-officers, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, gay people, transgender people - isn’t that our problem? When Christ says to us, “Go and do likewise,” I think Christ is saying to us that we cannot choose our neighbor.He is asking us to do to the people we dislike, hate, discriminate, or fear what he as a Jew,did with the Good Samaritan.Every person immaterial of their identity is our neighbor. Every life matters.”Go and do likewise.”
- Fr. Satish Joseph