DO THE SAME YOURSELF
In order to not be left looking bad in a conversation with Jesus, a teacher of the law ends by asking him: «And who is my neighbor?». It’s the question of someone who only worries about fulfilling the law. He’s interested in knowing whom he ought to love and whom he can exclude from his love. He’s not thinking about people’s suffering.
Jesus, who goes about relieving the suffering of those he meets in his path, breaking the law of the Sabbath or rules of purity if they’re lacking, answers him with a story that provocatively denounces all religious legalism that ignores love for those in need.
On the road that comes down from Jerusalem to Jericho, a man has been attacked by bandits. Beaten and robbed of everything, he lies there in the ditch half dead, abandoned to his fate. We don’t know who he is, only that he’s a «man». He could be any one of us. Any human being taken down by violence, sickness, misery or despair.
«By chance» there appears on the road a priest. The text indicates that it happens by accident, as if it’s not unusual to see a man dedicated to cult along that road. His job isn’t to go down to the wounded in the ditches. His place is the temple. His work, sacred celebrations. When he reaches where the wounded man is, «he sees him, then passes by on the other side».
His lack of compassion isn’t just a personal reaction, since also a temple Levite who’s coming along near the wounded man «does the same». It’s rather an attitude and a danger that stalks those who dedicate themselves to the world of the sacred: live far from the real world where people struggle, work and suffer.
When religion isn’t centered in a God who is a Friend of life and Father of those who suffer, sacred cult can become an experience that distances itself from profane life, keeps itself from direct contact with people’s suffering, and makes us walk without reacting to the wounded people we see in the ditches. According to Jesus, it’s not the men of cult who can best indicate to us how we ought to treat those who suffer, but rather the people who have heart.
Along the road comes a Samaritan. He doesn’t come from the temple. He doesn’t belong, if you please, to the chosen people of Israel. He goes about dedicated to something so far from sacred as his puny commercial business. But when he sees the wounded man, he doesn’t ask himself if he’s his neighbor or not. He’s moved deep within and does all he can for him. This is the one we should imitate. That’s why Jesus says to the legalist: «Go and do the same yourself». Whom will we imitate when we meet on our road the victims most beaten down by today’s economic crisis?
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf