1) Four characters and a place to be identified
When we listen to the parable of the Samaritan four questions come up.
Who is the priest? I am that priest.
Who is the Levite? I am that Levite.
Who is the wounded man? I am the wounded man.
Who is the Samaritan? Jesus. What does He do? He becomes our neighbor, He takes care of me so that He becomes like me: He is wounded, naked, crucified for me and I’m healed, my dignity is given back to me and I’m brought back to life.
The priest and the Levite had finished their service in the Temple of Jerusalem and were going home. They see the wounded man but don’t stop. Perhaps they thought that he was already dead and didn’t want to touch him because it was an impure act to touch a dead body (Lev 21:1). Perhaps they feared to become themselves victim of an assault. These fears were stronger than compassion. As priest and Levite they represented the wise men that had to incarnate the commandment of God’s love. What about love forneighbor? Unfortunately cult and compassion were two different things.
And what is the inn? It is the Church.
2) Who is our neighbor?(1)
We are used to the expression” Good Samaritan”; it seems a common saying but is is not so obvious. It is an oxymoron (a contradiction). (2)
For the Jews the Samaritan was heretic, separatist, more despised than the pagans. For a Samaritan it would not have been possible to consider them neighbor. Jesus doesn’t say that the wounded man must be helped because he is the neighbor but He “dares” to donate to his countrymen a Samaritan as the example of human and divine compassion for a happy and eternal life.
This “gift” has been so well understood by the Church that Jesus has been forever indicated as the “Good Samaritan” and the Church becomes “neighbor” to suffering humanity. Christ and the Church with Him bend over the weak and wounded man to save him because God’s kingdom has this “cost”: compassion.
The son of God, the incarnate Mercy, carries God’s blessing in becoming neighbor to mankind that is by Him pitied, nursed and healed for the Kingdom of God.
To make us understand the greatness and the intensity of this proximity, Jesus uses various parables: the one of the good shepherd that saves the sheep condemned to death ( John 10:10), the one of the son of the owner of the vineyard that arrives after the prophets that were sent in vain (Jh 10;Lk 20:9-18) and that one of the Samaritan that tells of a traveler that doesn’t avoid a wounded man but with compassion kneels next to him and removes him from the road.
Let’s imagine the scene and let’s become the wounded man that is rescued by the Samaritan who arrives after the priest and the Levite that didn’t want or couldn’t help him, maybe because he was unknown to them or not belonging to their family or their tribe. Here we can see mirrored the history of salvation in which Jesus is a despised Samaritan, reveals what other techniques of salvation have forgotten and builds where these techniques have failed.
In Christ, God became near to mankind with a simple and human figure. The God that we now know is not “too high up nor too far away” from us and His law is very close to us. It is in our mouth and in our heart so that we push it in practice (first reading of the Roman Rite). Only doing what Christ has done we can truly encounter our neighbor (God) and our neighbor (men and women). Our heart matures only in welcoming the Other and the other and has only one “nice flaw”, it needs to be loved.
At the end of the parable Jesus reverses the second question of the doctor of the Law (the first one had been “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”).(3) He had asked: “Who is my neighbor?”
The question seems to have been made to convince Jesus that “to love God” is without limits but that “to love the neighbor” has well defined limits. I think that the question implies that we can choose the neighbor we must love with the possibility to refuse the ones that are not worthy to be loved. Jesus revolves it: ”Which of these three, had compassion (4) for him?” It is important not only to know on whom we must have compassion but also to know who has compassion on us. Today He wants to teach us not so much who is our neighbor as to make us understand Who comes near us lying on the road. In the foreground there is not the one who organizes his compassion and distributes it to the one he thinks deserves it, but the one who is in need and waits for a sign of compassion by a Traveller that approaching him and nursing him becomes his neighbor.
3) The price of the Kingdom of God: compassion
If on the above lines I suggested to identify oneself with the wounded man so that we can understand that our neighbor is Christ. Now I propose to identify oneself with the Samaritan to be near to the wounded humanity that desires to rise up but cannot do it alone. The priest and the Levite didn’t stop as the Samaritan did because their eyes were not those of the Lord. On the contrary the Samaritan has God’s eyes and looks at the humanity as Jesus does: “Christ, the Son of God, looks at the human pain and uses this pain to reveal his love and to incarnate his mercy. How much “descending” must be done in me if only the pain can reveal God’s love to me! How much charity must be done by God if He had to go with us on our Calvary so that we can believe in Love!” (Father Primo Mazzolari, Time to believe, Brescia 1964, page 103)
This love is moved and has compassion (to suffer with), a word that- even if less stronger than the Greek word that indicate a ”moved womb”- indicates not the giving of the wealthy person to the poor or the rescue of the healthy person of the ill one but it means living together the passion for the life of the brother or the sister whose humanity has been wounded.
The etymology of the word compassion pushes us to live it feeling the pain of the other as if it were ours. The doctor of the Law has understood it very well. Jesus then confirms his answer and invites him to do the same. Charity is mission in compassion; it is to follow Christ in our daily life. To do so Jesus asks for complete availability and pushes us to work for a common cause, and to enter into a history and a stability of life. This is the way to eternal life: to go the same way that Jesus has described and done in coming to live in the place of our illness.
We should ask Christ to give us a gaze and a heart like his. While reason wants to measure the gift of God based on what she can understand, Christ reveals to us His unimaginable tender Heart. Many people in the Church have understood and welcomed this heart and his tenderness.
I’d like to cite the example of a Missionary of Charity that I met in Rome. She was an Italian nun who at 60 had left the Congregation where she was General Counselor to become a nun in the Missionaries of Charity. Mother Theresa of Calcutta welcomed her and with maternal concern advised her to go to Calcutta when the weather would have been less harsh. After a month of getting accustomed to the new life, she sent the “new” sister to work (or as Mother Theresa used to say, “To do apostolate”) in the House of the dying. In this House of mercy there are many small rooms where the dying is assisted with love. On the walls of every room there is written a phrase from the Gospel. The Italian nun started to wash the wounds of an ill person while looking at the wall where it was written: “This is my body”. At the end of her “apostolate” the nun returned to the convent for dinner. Mother Theresa asked her: ”What did you did this afternoon?” The nun answered: ”I’ve been with Jesus for three hours’”. Like a Samaritan following the steps of the Samaritan she had bent over the man with whom Jesus identifies himself: “I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was a prisoner, I was ill, and I was naked. I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’(Mt 25:35).
Let’ s live in mercy and let’s practice compassion kneeling in front of our neighbor as Jesus did washing the feet and on the Cross as many men and women do when they wash the material and spiritual wounds of their brothers and sisters.
Looking at us in this communion of reciprocal mercy the others will be able to “read” the Gospel and to “see” it in action. Through our life in Christ, truth is given to the men of wisdom and love to the hearts.
God puts himself in our hands of mercy. We are the only ones responsible for this mercy and let’s not delegate this responsibility to others. Every one of us has the duty to carry in his heart the Living God who never imposes but proposes calling us to live his pilgrimage and to open the door He is knocking at: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock:” If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20).
What I’ve said is valid for all Christians, religious and lay people. In what way is the vocation to be a Samaritan specific for those who consecrate themselves? They must show with their life that cult and compassion are not in contrast. To a nun who was asking to Saint Vincent de Paolis: ”If I’m in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and a poor person knocks at the door what should I do? Should I continue my adoration or go to the poor?” The Saint founder of the Daughters of Mercy answered: “You don’t abandon God if you abandon God for God”. That not only means that in the poor there is God and consequently we can stop praying to help the needy. It means also that in a virginal consecration to God, one has eyes so pure that he or she sees God in the poor and serves Him in mercy and in praise.
4) The Inn of “ All are welcomed”
In today’s parable Jesus also says that the Samaritan took the wounded man in the “All are welcomed,” today translated as an inn.”(5) .
This “All are welcomed” is a fragile house suspended between Jericho and Jerusalem that is born wherever a person is willing to welcome everybody.
God welcomes everybody into the profound sign of love.
The Church welcomes all in a maternal way. In this “public lodging” the suffering person is nursed in the same way a mother bends over her child to take care of him. This taking care (6) (that in the Greek word indicates how a mother bends over her child) means that it is a concern that becomes action. The Consecrated Virgins are called in a particular way to this service of maternal care. The Rite of Consecration invites them to dedicate themselves to nurse the physical and moral sores of every brother and sister wounded in the body and in the soul because thanks to a pure heart they see in the face of a suffering person the Face of faces: that of Christ.
(1) The neighbor, in Greek “pleison”, in Hebrew “ re’a”, indicates “one who is near, who lives nearby and with whom we share something. For the Jew it was his countryman because he was a member of the chosen people and at maximum they could include the ones who had converted to Judaism.
(2) An oxymoron (it is a Greek word from oxus= pointed and moros=blunt) is a rhetorical figure that is made by the union of two opposite contradictory terms or anyway in strong antithesis between them. The result is that of an apparent paradox. For example lucid madness, silent tumult, deafening silence, parallel convergences, senseless sense and disgusting pleasure. If some oxymoron has been devised to capture the reader’s attention, others are born to indicate a reality that doesn’t have a name. This can happen because a word was never created or because the code of the language, for its formal limits, must contradict itself to indicate some deep concepts. This is the case of the expression “good Samaritan”.
(3) The Jew doctors of the Law counted 613 precepts, 365 negative (one for each day of the year) and 248 positive like the numbers of the bones. It indicated that the law every day enters in a negative way inside a man to purify him, to remove the negativity of evil and to penetrate in a positive way into the bones, the structure of the body, to structure man into right.
(4) The Greek text says splancnizomai “to be moved, to be caught in the deep of the womb”, in the deep of the soul, the maternal womb, loving womb typical of God whose look toward us becomes compassion. Today we translate it with “to have compassion” weakening the original vividness of the text. Because of the lightning of mercy that strikes the soul of the Samaritan, he becomes neighbor going beyond every question and every danger. The question has changed, it not any more matter to establish who our neighbor is or who is not. It concerns me. I must become neighbor to the other so that he or she is important for me like “myself”.
(4) In the Greek writing it is uses the word pandocheion that means “to welcome all” and it is a house between Jerusalem, the celestial Jerusalem, and Jericho. This house that welcomes all is the symbol of the Church that welcomes everybody.
(5) In Greek the word epemelethe means to take care, to worry, to vigil, go out of one’s way.
Dt 30: 10-14; Ps 69; Col 1:15-20; Lk 10: 25-37
You have words of spirit and life – Parable of the Good Samaritan
VIII Sunday of Pentecost
1Sam 8, 1-22a; Ps 88; 1Tm 2, 1-8; Mt 22, 15-22
To give to Caesar and to give to God
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Monsignor Francesco Follo is permanent observer of the Holy See to UNESCO, Paris.