The Good Samaritan Seeks Justice

 

Rembrandt Good Samaritan
The Good Samaritan, by Rembrandt

Today at Holy Mass we read the parable of the Good Samaritan. It turns on one sentence. The Samaritan looked at the robbery victim “with compassion.”

Let’s try to think of that victim with compassion, too. Don’t we have to imagine that, at some point, the poor, wounded man asked, “Did they catch the thieves who did this to me?”

He might add: “If only they had asked me peacefully, I would gladly have helped them with some money. But to beat me and leave me half-dead? For this, they should do time in prison. And restore to me my money. Justice demands it.”

To which we can only imagine the Samaritan—who represents Christ—saying: “Amen, brother.

“I spoke to the centurion in Jericho. I gave him a full account of what I know. He has investigated the case, and his soldiers arrested a group of thieves. When you’re well enough, we’ll take you to see if you can identify them as the group that robbed and beat you.”

In other words: If we claim to have Christian compassion for victims of violence, that means: Doing the painstaking work required to see justice done.

Of course we know that no human effort can attain perfect justice. And we trust that God will make everything right in the end.

But when God helps someone who has been victimized see the wrongness of what has happened; when a victim of violence attains the clarity of mind necessary to describe the crime carefully and thoroughly, and then demand justice—that is a miracle of grace.

If we do not accompany that victim in the quest for justice, then any claims we make to Christian compassion are nothing but empty hypocrisy. A Good Samaritan who loves the suffering neighbor will fight for justice, and will not rest until something gets done. We won’t live in a world in which people can rob and beat innocent travelers and get away with it scot-free.

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Needing a Good Samaritan

Jundland_Wastes R2D2

Sometimes we think we are cruising invincibly down the highway of life.  Hundreds of facebook friends, constantly liking our exciting snapshots.  A good job, with stellar performance evaluations.  Maybe even an attractive spouse, plus kids with high g.p.a.’s and plenty of soccer trophies.  [Click para leer en español.]

But the highway of life can take a sudden turn, and I can find myself staring at a lonely and dangerous stretch of road.

I daresay that the scholar of the law who took part in the conversation we hear at Holy Mass fancied himself as cruising invincibly down the highway of a good and righteous life.  He likely found the parable of the Good Samaritan to be rather jarring.

The Law of Moses orders us servants of God to love our neighbors.  So the scholar had asked Christ, “Who is my neighbor?”  After all, the world teems with countless “neighbors.”  God cannot possibly expect me to love them all!

So I must make some selections, thought the scholar to himself.  I must have some criterion by which to distinguish the ‘in’ from the ‘out’ crowd.  ‘In’ people talk like I do, apply good standards of personal hygiene, watch the same cable-news network as I watch, and have high-functioning kids like mine.

But the Lord turned the tables on him.

Anyone ever taken the road from Jerusalem to Jericho?  How about this:  Anyone ever see the original Star Wars movie?  Near the beginning, R2D2 went looking for Obi Wan Kenobi.  The little droid escaped from the Skywalker farm on Tatooine and wandered into the dusty hills, where the Sand People could ambush you.  That is what the road between Jerusalem and Jericho is like.  Seriously.  Winding, lonesome, dusty.  Creepy.

Martin Luther King, Jr., described the road, when he preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan:

The Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, ‘I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.’ It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing.

Anyway, by throwing the parable of the Good Samaritan at him, Jesus seems to have been saying to the scholar:  You want to find a way to choose your neighbors. You think you have a lot to offer, and everybody wants a piece.  So you have to keep yourself from getting spread too thin.  But:  you could wind up needing a neighbor.  Then the question you will have is:  Who will have the kindness to help me?  Who will think of me as their neighbor then?

Dr. Martin Luther KingAnd the answer of course is:  The one who doesn’t fuss and get choosy about who his neighbors are.  He will help.  The one who doesn’t have too much pride, too much self-importance, to notice the woebegone people around him.  The one who keeps his humble eyes open, and who simply cannot stand to see a fellow human being suffering.

For us, the most important spiritual lesson of the parable of the Good Samaritan is:  identifying myself with the man who got robbed and left half-dead.  If all we do is try to copy the Good Samaritan, we could wind up right where the scholar of the law started, when he initially posed his question.  He was thinking:  I’m fine.  I can offer so much as a neighbor, I need to start vetting the applicants.

No.  I could be the poor soul by the side of the road.  Actually, I am the poor soul, wounded and nearly lost.  Desperation stares me in the face.  I could get gravely ill tomorrow.  My home and possessions could float away in a flood.  Some hoodlum could steal my car.  My friends could say, “You know, you’re annoying.  We don’t like you anymore.”

And then there’s this:  Even if my car is currently purring its way down the highway of life at an impressive little clip, I have to recognize that this road will end.

Eventually the doorbell will ring, and it won’t be opportunity knocking.  It will be Mr. Grim M. Reaper.

We will all need a good neighbor then.  A Good Samaritan.  A divine Good Samaritan.

I quoted a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King earlier.  Anyone know when he gave that one, the one I quoted?  The evening of April 3, 1968.  In Memphis.  (Fue asesinado la mañana siguiente.)

So let’s identify with the Good Samaritan in this way:  It’s not for me to apply a selection process to qualify my neighbors.  My job is to love everyone in front of me, especially the ones who suffer.  And let me pray that, when I need a Good Samaritan, he or she will come along to love me like I need to be loved.

Abouna Abiud Reports

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Greetings from Jerusalem. To catch you up, dear reader:

…The Holy Land first welcomed us with lush greenery and bucolic countryside—the Galilee of the Lord’s youth. Traveling south, we came to harder country. Then we entered one of the tensest cities in the world.

One could ask: Where on earth is there a place so beautiful and peaceful that it would be a suitable location for the Son of God to teach and to heal? The shores of the Sea of Galilee are certainly beautiful and peaceful enough.

But one also must ask: What city on earth is such a jumble of antagonisms, long-standing grudges, and self-righteousness that it could kill the Son of God? Jerusalem is such a city.

…Yesterday we left Nazareth. We headed south. We renewed our Baptismal promises on the bank of the Jordan River.

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Stepping into the Jordan River

We came to the place where the ancient Israelites entered the Promised Land after their journey back from Egypt. This is where the priests carried the Ark of the Covenant into the Jordan, the water piled up like a mound, and the people walked across the river bed with dry feet.

They headed for Jericho, and so did we.

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In hardscrabble Jericho

The Lord Jesus passed through Jericho a number of times, when He Himself was on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

His most famous parable is about the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. We ascended to the Holy City on this pilgrim road (now paved)…

…This morning we visited the Upper Room, where: 1) The Lord Jesus instituted the Holy Mass, 2) He appeared after He rose from the dead, 3) the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles in tongues of flame.

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Trying on the kafiyeh

Then we left Jerusalem and went out to the Judean hill country, to visit the church built where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived. This is where our Lady came to help her cousin—the Visitation.

From there, we entered Bethlehem. After eating delicious falafel sandwiches, we entered Manger Square, the sight of so much Christian piety over the centuries.

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In the hill country of Judah

We recalled the words of Popes who have come on pilgrimage here:

Pope John Paul II was here in 2000:

In Bethlehem it is always Christmas. ‘Here Christ was born of the Virgin Mary’: these words, inscribed over the place where Jesus was born, are the reason for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. They are the reason for my coming to Bethlehem today. They are the source of the joy, the hope, the goodwill, which, for two millennia, have filled countless human hearts at the very sound of the name “Bethlehem.”

IMG_1165People everywhere turn to this unique corner of the earth with a hope that transcends all conflicts and difficulties.

Bethlehem – where the choir of Angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men” (Lk 2:14) – stands out, in every place and in every age, as the promise of God’s gift of peace. Bethlehem is a universal crossroads where all peoples can meet to build together a world worthy of our human dignity and destiny.

Pope Benedict was here in May:

“Do not be afraid; for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy…today in the city of David a Savior is born for you” (Lk 2:10-11). The message of Christ’s coming, brought from heaven by the voice of angels, continues to echo in this town, just as it echoes in families, homes and communities throughout the world. It is “good news”, the angels say “for all the people”. It proclaims that the Messiah, the Son of God and the Son of David, has been born “for you”: for you and me, and for men and women in every time and place.

In God’s plan, Bethlehem, “least among the clans of Judah” (Mic 5:2), has become a place of undying glory: the place where, in the fullness of time, God chose to become man, to end the long reign of sin and death, and to bring new and abundant life to a world which had grown old, weary and oppressed by hopelessness.

Looking up at the Basilica, we could see that “the great church built over the Savior’s birthplace stands like a fortress battered by the strife of the ages,” as John Paul put it.

The main basilica, under the care of the Greek Orthodox, is in rough shape. Our visit to the grotto of the Nativity was very moving. Then we went to the cave of St. Jerome to celebrate Holy Mass.

From there we descended to the Shepherd’s Field, where the angels announced the birth of Christ to the humble men watching over their flocks by night.

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Barluzzi church on Shepherds' Field

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