|The Good Samaritan|
Homily of July 15, 2001
Father Iomar Daniels
When recently Father Brian, Father Tom, and I were stranded at the side of the road--the highway, in fact--Father Brian accidentally ran over a roaming rake in the middle of the highway, shedding the front left tire of his vehicle and shredding it into pieces. And with cool dart coolness and shoemaker precision he eased us over to the island in the middle of the highway. And what struck me at the time was that nobody stopped to see if we needed assistance, nobody stopped to see if we needed any help. I was waiting there for the Good Samaritan. But it came in the form of Father Tom because he's an expert on the cell phone; so if you're ever stranded on the side of the road, call Father Tom.
Now, it is understandable when we are told over and over again not to stop for the stranger in case it might be a plot to rob us or mug us. I don't think we looked like criminals on that day. In fact, we might have looked a little bit like the three musketeers or a band of Robin Hood's Merry Men or, as somebody put it this morning, we looked a little bit maybe like the Three Stooges. But we were certainly not vandals, and our intentions are always noble.
So now it is understandable in a world which encourages a Me generation, in a world which encourages selfishness, and in a world which says "fences make good neighbors," we have created so many boundary lines in our lives to protect ourselves that we cocoon ourselves from reality. And in a sense what this gospel is talking to us-and especially what the lawyer in today's gospel was attempting to do is very important to remember, because he was trying to take refuge in the law, and he was hoping that by fulfilling the law alone, it would be enough to merit his entrance into eternal life-to merit salvation. So he asks what can only be deemed as a petty or childish question-not that lawyers are in the habit of asking petty questions. He said, "Who is my neighbor?" And he followed it with another childish, or simple, question, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life-everlasting life?" Obviously the lawyer in today's gospel missed the point on what Jesus had been teaching up to this time.
For Jesus, the legalistic approach was out the door. And living by the letter of the law was out. Doing one single good act would not be enough to earn eternal life. For Jesus, it is much more than just fulfilling the letter of the law. It is our attitude as well and our intention behind our action. In fact it is to be a holistic approach: body, mind, and spirit. Now the lawyer was working out of his head, unfortunately, and he didn't allow the spirit of "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself" to penetrate his heart.
The poor man, like many of us today, did not know who, in fact, his neighbor was. He was conditioned by the racial hatred of his time. He thought that your neighbor was merely your family or your good friends or people that you could like. You see, Jews and Samaritans at that time hated one another. And they did so because the Jews despised the Samaritans because they saw them as the half-caste descendants of northern Jews who had intermarried with foreigners. And this led to racial tension and the racial tension translated to religious tension as well. And when the southern Jews returned from exile in 520 Before Christ they refused to allow the Samaritans to help them to rebuild their churches or their temples at that time. So the lawyer then, like many of us today, had inherited racial and sectarian prejudices which limit us in loving our neighbor. And we witness this all the time: Christians versus Muslims, Protestants versus Catholics, Palestinians versus the Jews, and in a sense we don't allow ourselves to get to know our neighbor. In fact, sometimes we don't want to get to know our neighbor. And we experience it everyday then when we find that settled people are against immigrant and refugees, when houseowner versus the homeless, when we discover that the gay are against the straight people, the rich versus the poor, the healthy against the sick and the young are against the old.
And it was interesting when I opened the paper this morning to discover the headline in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Racial Bias in California Highway Patrol Searches." They carried out a survey of about 3.3 million people over a period of time to discover that there is racism in that area. The point of Jesus' parable for the lawyer and for us is quite clear that there are, or there should be, no limits to whom we should love. The parable is easy to understand but very difficult to put into practice as you can imagine.
And, of course, it is understandable that nobody stopped for three priests standing helpless in the middle of the highway with a shredded tire. After all, look at how the priests behaved themselves in today's gospel. We deserve to be left there. But I think we've missed the point of Jesus' teaching like the lawyer if we think like this. If you are human at all, nothing that is human should be a stranger to you. The man lying on the road represents all of us who are in pain, all of us who are hurting and all of us who are in need. And the Good Samaritan, then, represents our response to that. We can respond like the priest or the Levite and remain cocooned or locked into our little petty worlds. Or we can respond like the Good Samaritan in a Christ-like way and allow our own pain, and our own hurts, and our own needs, to connect with the pain and the hurt and the needs of our neighbor, whoever that may be. We don't need, like the lawyer in today's gospel to justify our response. We don't need to calculate our response. We don't need to ask petty questions. No, all we need to do is to push out the boundaries of our own petty world a little more. We need to shake off any inherited prejudices, any inherited fears or phobias we might have. And we need to allow the spirit of the law to penetrate, not only our logical minds, but our compassionate hearts as well.
So the gospel today very simply then is inviting all of us to respond to those in need with compassion and with mercy and nothing more. It is inviting us to put into practice what we celebrate at every Mass, "This is my body given up for you, and you, and you." Amen.