Recent events have challenged us to live out the Word of God as we hear it read and preached at Mass on Sunday. In particular, the readings from the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time in which we hear the story of the Good Samaritan force us to ask, “Who is my neighbor?”
The following submissions come from Dominican Friars throughout the Central Province.
Fr. Ed Riley, OP
One day, Chukwu was standing with a friend waiting for a bus, and his friend was trying to console him because Chukwu’s brother was killed the day before by a Hausa man during a riot in which Hausas and Igbos were fighting each other. Chukwu is an Igbo.
As they were waiting, a Hausa beggar came and asked Chukwu for help. Chukwu smiled and gave him some money.
As they were getting on the bus, his friend said, “Why did you give him money? They’re the ones who killed your brother”.
Chukwu said, “Was he the one who killed my brother?”
I think that most prejudice is caused because people confuse the part with the whole. They jump from the particular (or the singular) to the universal.
We pray that the Lord will give us the grace to bind up our country’s wounds, and we pray that Jesus, the Good Samaritan ‘par excellence’, will heal us of our prejudices and enable us to act with love and compassion.
Fr. Patrick Baikauskas, OP (St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center at Purdue University-West Lafayette, Indiana)
Fr. Chuck Dahm, OP (St. Pius V Parish-Chicago, Illinois)
These readings are very appropriate to help us reflect on the incredible events that happened in the US this past week.
In the Gospel Jesus teaches us how to be compassionate by helping someone unknown to us, someone different from us. Jesus answers the disingenuous question about who is our neighbor with a story. A man is attacked, beaten and robbed. A priest and Levite pass by and avoid him. They won’t lend a hand most probably because they did not want to soil their hands with blood, which was forbidden by the law.
A Samaritan on a journey through Jewish territory does stop and help. It is important to understand who the Samaritans were and how they were despised by the Jews. They were considered foreigners and heretics. The Jews were forbidden to have any contact with them, not even speak to them. Jesus presents the Samaritan as a hero, the one who gets it right, understands how to be compassionate. He binds up his wounds, carries him to an inn and pays for his care. Religious law and ethnicity were irrelevant to him. The wounded man was a human being and in need of attention and that motivated the Samaritan.
As in the first reading, the law of God is written in our hearts, even in the hearts of those who are different from us, non-Christians, Muslims, Jews, even non-believers. The Samaritan found it in his heart to be compassionate.
Why are these readings appropriate?
Because this week, we heard and saw the news of the shootings of two Afro American men by white police officers. The incidents are under investigation so we don’t know all the details of the events. But it appears to be once again examples of the use of excessive force by police against African Americans. These are two more cases of this kind of behavior that regrettably we have seen repeated time and time again this past year.
But then there was a horrendous angry response in Dallas, where a Black man shot and killed five white police officers and wounded approximately seven more. How horrible. It is a perfect example how violence generates more violence.
These incidents reflect just the opposite teaching of Jesus. In the Gospel Jesus explains how someone can help someone else who is totally unknown and different, while in these incidents we see people hurting and even killing others they do not know and see as different.
But in all this inhuman response we can still find the Good Samaritan.
On a TV news report on Friday night an Afro American man and his 15-year son were interviewed. The man recounted how he and his son were protesting in Dallas when shots rang out. They hit a police officer nearby. They hit the ground and another police officer shielded them, he was white. He did not look back at where the shots originated but faced them and covered them with this body. He was not protecting his own life but ours, the man said. I can tell you, he said, that if it were not for that white police officer, I would not be here talking to you now. I and my son would be dead. So when people say that “Black Lives Matter”, I say let’s change that to “All Lives Matter.” All lives matter.
This is the kind of response that inspires us all to be Good Samaritans. They are around us. You will recall several weeks ago when a young man was raping a student on the campus of Stanford University. Two male students passed by and saw what was happening. They yelled at the perpetrator who jumped up and ran. The two students gave pursuit and caught him. They wanted to protect the woman and obtain justice for the perpetrator. They were Good Samaritans too.
One mother was interviewed in Dallas because she was caught up in the protest, and when shots rang out, she pushed three of her children to run while she fell with her 15-year old son; she covered him with her body. A bullet hit her in the leg and she was hospitalized. She too was a Good Samaritan but she was protecting her son, her family. Jesus goes beyond that and teaches us that we have to love our neighbors, even those unknown to us and different from us.
Not everyone is capable of being a Good Samaritan. Several weeks ago a woman was assaulted on a train platform in Chicago. There were other passengers on the platform but absolutely no one stepped forward to help her. A few weeks ago a 4-year boy was shot in the early evening in a drive-by shooting on Chicago’s south side. He was paralyzed by the bullet that penetrated his spine. Neighbors were outside on the street and witnessed the shooting. But no one would come forward to help the police identify the shooter. The boy’s father pleaded and offered a $5000 reward for any evidence leading to the arrest of the shooter. No one came forward. People are too afraid to be Good Samaritans.
Are we able to be Good Samaritans? Would we risk our lives or injury to help someone? Would we even go out of our way to help someone we don’t know or who looks different from us? Think of yourself in a grocery store checkout line where you see a mother slap her small child. Would you say something to protect that child? If we hear screams from a neighbor’s house or see someone brandishing a gun, what would we do?
Brothers and sisters, Jesus spoke up to defend the poor and oppressed, and today he calls us to be like the Good Samaritan in his story. May we have the courage to be like our brother, Jesus. May he help us join together to defend and protect one another no matter if we are different and unknown to one another, because as Jesus says, we are all neighbors and we must love our neighbors as ourselves.
Fr. Dennis Woerter, OP (St. Robert Bellamine-Chicago, Illinois)
I was in Adrian, MI a couple weeks ago attending a conference with high school students. The big news in Adrian the Sunday we were there was that there had been a murder in Adrian overnight.
This sort of thing just doesn’t happen there.
Well, I thought to myself, “There have been 12 shootings since Friday night in Chicago.”
I really shouldn’t be so cynical, but it seems segments of our society have become numb to all the violence that occurs. As we are just beginning to get over the mass shooting in Orlando, we witness one man taking the law into his own hands and gunning down law enforcement officers in Dallas.
The most law enforcement deaths in a single incident since 9/11.
Have we become numb?
Have we become cynical?
Is this the way things are meant to be?
As Christians, the answer to all three questions must be, “No.”
In response to the shootings in Dallas, President Obama said, “We are better than this.”
As Christians, we say the same: we are better than this.
Today’s gospel presents us with what may very well be the most well-known parable in all the gospels: the Good Samaritan. Jesus tells this story in response to a simple question. A scholar asks, “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus’ parables are meant to shock. They are meant to challenge one’s worldview. They are meant to force the audience to reflect on their relationships and their commitment to following Jesus.
Samaritans during the time of Jesus were meant to be avoided. They were not considered to be good and faithful Jews. There is a long history here, but Jesus’ audience – especially this scholar of the law – would not expect the Samaritan to be the hero.
Samaria was a place to be avoided.
Samaritans had no role in society.
Samaritans were shunned.
Strictly because of the way they practiced Judaism.
But the Samaritan in the story is the hero. He is the one who takes care of the man who was beaten and robbed. Both the priest and the Levite avoid the victim. Actually, they observe a strict interpretation of the law, in that they do not touch what is impure – in this case the injured and bloody victim.
They follow the law as they interpret it, but they do not do the right thing.
The Samaritan is expected to not do anything, but he does the right thing. He takes care of the victim. He pays for his care. He makes sure the victim is somewhere he can heal. He shows mercy.
Notice the end of this story. Jesus asks, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?”
The scholar answers, “The one who treated him with mercy.
Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”
This is a story about mercy.
And we are given the opportunity to reflect on this not only in the context of shootings and other types of violence, but in the context of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Pope Francis says that we as Christians must be the face of God’s mercy to the world.
What does this mean for us?
How do we put this into practice?
We might think that events that occur in such places as Orlando and Dallas do not affect us, but they do. We must remind ourselves that we are not only members of one Christian family; we are members of one human family. We rejoice together. We grieve together. We must have a collective desire to change things and to make things better.
So we return to the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus takes us through a reflection on the necessity to be merciful. At all times. This applies to us all, but it also affects those we encounter. This parable breaks down barriers. It basically says that it does not matter who we are. It does not matter who we encounter. We must be merciful. At all times. And we must actively work to promote and more merciful and loving society.
Sometimes this is uncomfortable. Pope Francis has said this from the first days of this pontificate. Following Jesus is sometimes messy and makes us uncomfortable. Jesus never says that following him is easy. But he does say it is possible.
The priest and the Levite saw the bloodied victim lying on the side of the road and they moved to the other side. They protected themselves and did not get dirty.
The Samaritan, on the other hand, approached the victim and took care of him. He cleansed his wounds. He picked him up and got him to a place where he could heal. He took his own money to make sure he had the proper care.
He did all this despite the fact that members of the society in which he lived openly said he was not a good person. It was assumed he could do no good at all. He and his people were shunned and not seen to be valuable members of the community. They were isolated because of who they were.
The Samaritan got himself dirty and showed mercy to the victim.
We may not think we can have much of an effect. But we can. The gospel constantly challenges us to be better. The foundational message of the gospel is: love one another.
And Jesus shows us what love can do.
The Good Samaritan showed mercy.
For him this meant getting dirty. Touching wounds. Cleansing wounds. Making sure the person was healed.
Sometimes being merciful means getting dirty. We can think about another story and recall that Thomas needed to touch the wounds of Jesus in order to believe in the resurrection.
The Samaritan needed to touch the wounds of the bloodied victim in order to ensure his own salvation and the healing of the one he encountered on the side of the road.
Fr. Brendan Curran, OP (Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish-Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
We all know so well the story of the Good Samaritan…but something troubled me this week as I re read the passage from Luke with CNN news coverage of Dallas in the background….
Reading of Luke –
Doctor trapping Jesus
Proving his worthiness
Love god with your whole heart, being strength and mind….
Love your neighbor as yourself!
The doctor says, “ AND WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?”
JESUS responds with the story of the Good Samaritan:
3 passed on road from Jerusalem to Jericho
Priest and Levite – ignored the man…in fact, they went to the other side of the road. But, the third, the Samaritan – cleaned his wounds, wrapped them, took to care, inn
WE KNOW THE STORY …. AND WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR????
How often do we want to be like the doctor… what is good enough to earn eternal life…
How are we actually like the priest and the Levite?
Instead walking towards the wounded man …we choose to walk away… WE CHOOSE TO CROSS THE STREET?
There it is…. I had hardly noticed in the many times I have read this passage…
I often thought the wounded man was on the other side of the street. The wounded man was right in front of them…. It was they who made a choice… to cross the street to purposely avoid the wounded man…. Purposely…
That is it …that is the struggle that describes the awkwardness of this week……. Who of us did not shriek in horror of the events of these past days?
How tempting is it for us to turn away…to walk to the other side of the street… and ignore the pain, anger, horror of Minnesota, Louisiana and Dallas …
not to mention St Louis and Georgia or Ferguson and Baltimore of before…
In light of the African-american killed by an officer in Minnesota, another killed by an officer in Louisiana, the 12 officers shot in Dallas, the officer shot in the neck in St. Louis, and one officer shot in Georgia, over these past days, amidst years of burning tensions from Ferguson and Baltimore, we can see this call for love and nonviolence is not always heeded.
Why do we cross the street?
We cross to avoid the messiness.
We too often see it as a disruption.
We prefer to mind our own business. Not my people. Not my problem.
Some cross the street every day out of real fear as well…
immigrants fear calling police out of fear of being reported to ICE
African-americans choose to cross the street out of fear of retaliation or prejudice that officers may have already have in their mind.
Just to name a few reasons…..
But, Why do you cross the street???
I’m challenged by Jesus’ teachings about the Good Samaritan. He asks us to be a people who not only know the right answers, but live them out as well. We are called to be people who see those who are suffering as their neighbors, and have the courage to resist crossing the street to avoid doing the Christian thing to do.
If I seek to serve my neighbors, I first need to learn to see them, an important first step in becoming a more loving Christian neighbor to those who live right next door.
Diana Hayes, an African American theologian at Georgetown University wrote in one of her essays,
“St. Augustine wrote centuries ago: “Hope has two beautiful daughters, anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to work to make things other than they are.”
Do we have the courage to release the fire of hope, which despite its anger, or precisely because of it, will lay the path for a fruitful and common journey for us all?
This is our calling as Christian people today: to be the heroes and sheroes of our children, of whatever race, class, or gender they may be, to be the bearers of hope and the instillers of a faith that can move mountains in our young who see a world that has turned away from them…
We must take a stand… going against the grain, against the complacency, against the status quo that fosters injustice; it must be nonviolent; and it must embody love.
A priest friend I admire who works in the heart of the struggle of violence in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood of Chicago has a message on his cellphone that I am reminded of today:
In his message he says, “Martin Luther King Jr says,“our lives begin to end the day we fall silent about the things that matter”
That is the spirit of Jesus in his example in the Gospel today…
Let us restart our dialogue on race and police-community tensions.
Let us dare to live our Christian call to truly love our neighbor and not just fall silent. In doing so I fear we will once again be like the priest and Levite in today’s gospel, we will be choosing to cross the street!