The Good Samaritan in few of us

I sat in the church pew absolutely shocked to be reminded how many times the word peace is mentioned at mass. I was struck mainly to think that American church-goers pay lip service to this word every weekend, year by year at war, and yet our military aggression persists without congregations raising their voices to protest. What kind of peace are they praying for? You know it of course, for peace at the barrel of a gun.

These churchgoers also listen every week to readings and homilies about religious virtues. What context is piety given in the midst of deliberate war and economic predation?

Last Sunday I was treated to the parable of the good Samaritan. Probably you know it, Jesus’ answer to how we should treat our neighbor. Jesus told of a man fallen victim to brigands, left for dead at the side of the road. A priest passed unmoved, so too a fellow Jew, crossing to the other side to avoid the man in need. Finally the Samaritan, an ethnic origin unchosen by God and held in general suspicion and disdain, interrupted his journey and the rest is history, well biblical history. The Samaritans might have been dog-fighting Nazi bastards every last one, until Jesus immortalized the hypothetical actions of one and now Samaritan is synonymous with good.

Today we hear the story about the traveller in need and think it’s a no brainer. We liken ourselves to natural Samaritans and can all but visualize our fellow parishioners lining up to help as readily as we queue for communion. But would that be true? Why were the original passersby so reluctant to help? I wondered if our priest sermonizing on the moral was prepared to explain his ancient colleague’s un-priestly callousness.

Perhaps the priest and the other unhelpful fellow formed a particular opinion about the denuded victim. Maybe he was thought to have been damn foolish or careless to have fallen victim to the bandits. What good does it do to help a person who doesn’t have sense enough to help himself? Give him money and it will likely flow directly to the next bandits on the trail. Perhaps that’s what the passersby were thinking. The Samaritan knew better, he knew that true compassion shows itself toward your enemy. Compassion toward your brother or compatriot is just teamsmanship. Real compassion is finding sympathy for someone unlike you out of kinship for all beings.

It’s certainly time to update the parable. How likely is it for any of us today to encounter a denuded mugging victim? Of course we’d be on board, but we’re never tested. What if, however, the victim is a welfare recipient beaten down by the system? Or a fat person on food stamps duped out of an understanding of health and self-preservation by predatory capitalism? What about a drunken derelict whose self-destructiveness is owed to some demon and now he’s likely to medicate himself to death and even rob you of more than your assistance to do it?

What if it’s a drug pusher or pimp or gang banger, who’s been given no other option? Perhaps a gambler who’ll throw away the last cent meant for his baby’s formula? Or perhaps a well-fed hag who runs a windowless bordello full of girls abducted from the countryside, she herself dying of cancer, a victim of tobacco brigands or chemical pollution robber barons? That person. Would you stop to help that person, as Jesus asks, as a good neighbor?

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Eric Verlo

About Eric Verlo

On sabbatical
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2 Responses to The Good Samaritan in few of us

  1. Avatar The 13th says:

    Sad ironies and a good write, my “brother from another mother”. When all else fails the Bible offers examples of a compassion rarely found in a world of blaim, alienation, and absolvements.

    Peace be with your family and world.

  2. Avatar jonah says:

    I got my Lazarus, the Republican Version, written somewhere, maybe on my weblog. Basically, the Republican version says that Lazarus was damned to hell and the Rich Man cast into the same pit, because the Rich Man hadn’t forbidden him from begging at his gates and (first century version of) eating out of his dumpster.

    See, if he had gotten Lazarus into some sort of Program, forced him not to use his disability as a crutch to avoid working, then Lazarus would have been magically healed, transformed into a productive citizen and he, too, would have been a rich and successful businessman.

    Instead, he “enabled” Lazarus.

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