Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations
Today’s Gospel reading has so many lessons for us to consider as we live out our journey. One fruitful element of this story is the consideration of we fail to do. What the Samaritan does for the person who was robbed gives us insight into the mercy and neighborliness that Jesus sees as central to his mission. Likewise, what the priest and the Levite fail to do give us insight into the opposite of what Jesus preaches.
I find this category of “failing to do” almost more daunting to consider than what my sinful actions may be in any given day. I don’t think that I actively engage in sinful behavior throughout my day. But there are many times when I fail to respond to others.
Unlike the characters in the parable, I don’t encounter just one request for aid during a long walk to my daily destination. As the mother of three children, the very necessary demands of the day can seem endless. As a professor with many students, the needs of those asking for help or those who should be asking for help are many. I also encounter people begging for money and receive mail asking for donations to feed the hungry. I can’t possibly meet the needs of all who ask or the many who should be asking.
So, how can I discern between failing to do something because I’m too busy and failing to do something because I’m not honoring my Christian commitment?
There are no easy answers, of course. But I have found that certain situations of not loving or not showing mercy haunt me for some time to come. Sometimes it’s a stranger or a student whose face or story I can’t shake. Sometimes it’s how I handle my kids during a rough morning before school. These situations challenge me to pray for and develop the virtue of being more loving or merciful the next time.
Where have you failed to be loving or merciful? What virtue can you strive for so you respond as a neighbor next time?
—Elizabeth Collier has degrees from three different Jesuit universities, including a PhD in Christian Ethics from Loyola University Chicago. She teaches at Dominican University in River Forest, IL.
Lord, we ask for the grace to weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty in the world, in ourselves, and even in those who anonymously make socio-economic decisions that open the way to tragedies. We ask forgiveness for the indifference towards so many brothers and sisters; we ask forgiveness for those who are pleased with themselves, who are closed in on their own well-being in a way that leads to the anesthesia of the heart. We ask you, Father, for forgiveness for those who at the global level have created situations that lead to human tragedies. Forgive us, Lord!