13 July 2013

The Good Samaritan: The Recklessness of God

A man is attacked by robbers along a notoriously dangerous stretch of road – and not just any robbers, but rather a gang of dangerous men who coordinate their attacks upon the unsuspecting.  The unfortunate traveler has his possessions stolen and is beaten to an inch of his life.  He is left there to die.

Two good people walk past him – they are religious leaders, but they know that if they touch him, they will be unclean.  In first century Palestine, to be “unclean” excluded one from worship with the community: and with it all of the important social relationships gained through it.  To walk over to this man lying on the side of the road will either expose them to the pollution of blood, or, even worse, to the uncleanliness of the dead.

What’s more, they too know that their travel along this road is dangerous.  Time is of the essence.  Perhaps they plan to hurry along and find help for the man when they reach the next village.  Certainly strength in numbers will help.  And besides, they aren’t doctors – they cannot bandage his wounds.  They are not strong man – they cannot carry him to safety.  And they do not have the power of soldiers behind them – ready to find those who have beaten this poor man and bring them to justice.  So, quite reasonably the priest and the Levite carry on with their lives, mostly likely feeling compassion, yet knowing that there is nothing they can do.

Then a Samaritan passes by:  He dismounts his animal – the animal that could carry him to safety if those bandits along the road set upon him.  He bandages the wounds of the beaten man despite having no medical training.  And he brings him to a local inn and takes the leap of faith that the inn keeper – usually just a stop above the men who had beaten the poor traveler on the social scale – would take his money and provide quality care.

The Samaritan then, is a fool: he cares not for his own safety, he cares not about reasonable limitations, nor does he particularly worry about whether the success of his mission: he sees a need and jumps at the change with reckless abandon.

This parable, my brother and sisters in Christ, is not just a moral lesson that teaches us to be kind.  No: it’s much more than that.

This parable first teaches us something about God! It teaches us that when God enters into the mess of our lives, He does not plan, does not ration, nor does he calculate.  Rather, God jumps in full throttle.

Does ending up crucified and seem to be the result of a well-reasoned plan?  Does God made human dying an embarrassing death – a complete and total failure – appear to be the result of a well-thought out and careful action on the  part of God to teach us anything?  Well, yes.  It does, in fact.  The recklessness shown by the Good Samaritan in this morning’s Gospel teaches us to just what extent God will show us his love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness.  Our God is the God who gives without counting the cost, who pours out grace – the very stuff of WHO GOD IS – to us regardless of who we are or what we do. 

As Catholics, we know the love that God has shown us.  We may not always feel it or be absolutely positive about it because of the trying times in our lives.  Nevertheless, it is at these times, when we ourselves feel as if we are abandoned on the road like the man in today’s Gospel, we may pray simply for God to remind us of his love for us. At the same time, when we see others who have been beaten down and left for dead in our community, in our parish, in our workplace and our families, the only thing to do is to be reckless: to stop and bind wounds, and carry the injured to safe.  We have, without a doubt, the power to do this, precisely because Jesus is with us. 

This morning’s Gospel teaches us, as Luke Timothy Johnson writes, “not who deserves to be cared for, but rather the demand to become a person who treats everyone encountered – however frightening, alien, naked or defenseless – with compassion.” (SP, 175).

And if this compassion does not start with the us, the People of God gathered around the Word and Table of God, then with whom will it?And it can be the smallest thing…The first memory of my life centers around me splitting my lip as a two year old on a rocking chair in New Jersey.  My mother panicked and called her mother and father who lived about five minutes away.  I still recall my grandfather barging into the house with an ice pop (a good way to get a two year old to use a cold compress).  He gave me the ice pop, took me into his lap and wiped away my tears. 

Of course, we do not always meet Good Samaritans along the road, nor are we always the best of Samaritans ourselves. Nevertheless, this Gospel teaches us today that it is not so much that we count those who have passed by without helping, but rather those who do! This week, let us be counted as the reckless ones: let us give witness to our faith in Christ by our lives, because if we don’t get off our horses to take care of the abandoned and forgotten, who will?

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