Today’s Gospel of the “Good Samaritan” is often known as the most straightforward parable of Christ. The message is clearly, “be compassionate to others.” If this is true then, “How is it that it is not so easy to put into practice?” Let us say soon after Mass, Jack comes up to you and asks you for $5.00 because he is hungry and needs to take lunch in a Food court.
However, as he is speaking to you he is smelling of alcohol. Would you give him the $5.00 or would you immediately turn away or brush him aside because you are convinced that he is going to take your money and buy more alcohol? What then is compassion?
While today’s Gospel message of the “Good Samaritan” is very clear its application in our daily living is not so straightforward. If you were to ask me “Father, while Christian compassion is to give Jack the $5.00 are we encouraging him to drink more alcohol which is going to damage his health?”
My answer would be, “Yes and No.” I would say, “Jack in all probability has no family; he sleeps in a cold corner of the market place or void deck every night regardless of whether it rains or not; he has no warm clothing; nobody is going to employ him; he is lonely and rejected by most people he approach . . . Are you going to be another person who is going to judge him harshly and brush him aside coldly as a good for nothing alcoholic?
“Yes, in all probability Jack is likely going to drink if you give him the $5.00” But, is it more Christian to give Jack the $5.00 out of compassion and then leave it to God to judge him? Jack too is a human person who has dignity and has the right to be respected even though he is a nobody in society?!”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, while compassion is clearly a Gospel value that Jesus proclaimed let us become more conscious of our prejudices and not simply brush people aside from our narrow perceptions of them. This value applies to all peoples. One of the most common faults and failures in our daily living is to have pre-conceived views of people who are poor and needy, people we dislike (whatever our reasons) or people who have hurt us deeply; we often end up judging them harshly and unjustly.
Thus, instead of simply jumping into conclusions about people like Jack, is not more Christ-like to take a step backward or spend some moments to reflect on where Jack is coming from? In doing so, we would more likely be living the values of the Good Samaritan. To be prejudiced against people like Jack would more likely make us behave like the Levi and Priest in today’s Gospel.
What if the situation is different? This is a situation where one of your friends David comes up to you and asked you whether you could lend him $7,000 because he is in great need. And when you asked him “Why,” he tells you that he has just lost his job and that he needs to pay his mother’s medical bills. Would you lend him the money? What is then is compassion?
Let us say that after borrowing the money, David finds it very hard to repay you even as he has promised. Instead of the two months that he promised, it is now already four years and he is still struggling to repay you. What is then is compassion? What if David had borrowed $300,000 instead of $7,000? What then is the Christ-like compassion?
Yet, compassion is clearly not as straightforward as we think. However, its meaning can be discerned and discovered if our hearts sincerely desire to live the Christ-like compassion that Jesus in today’s Gospel proclaimed must be lived, if we “want to inherit eternal life.” Jesus proclaims compassion as a Gospel value that is intrinsically inseparable from the Good News of Salvation. In fact, He lives this to the very end when He prays for the salvation of His persecutors, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
Jean Vanier’s insights on compassion give us a helpful window into how we can live this Christ-like Compassion when he says, “Compassion” means:
sharing the same passion,
sharing the same suffering,
sharing the same agony,
accepting into my heart
the misery in yours.
Your pain calls out to me.
It touches my heart.
It awakens something within me,
and I become one with you in your pain.
I may not be able to relieve your pain,
but by understanding it and sharing it
I make it possible for you to bear it
in a way that enhances your dignity
and helps you to grow.
And so, my sisters and brothers, if we want to be compassionate, then we need to empathise; we need to feel what the suffering person is feeling; we need to go beyond our logical thinking and get in touch more deeply with our affective self. And, we need to be willing to pay the price of what being the Compassionate-Christ demands of us.
The “Good Samaritan” in today’s Gospel was not only a total stranger to the wounded man. Being a Samaritan, he was considered a foreigner and even an enemy by the Jews. Yet, the Samaritan was able to transcend all these barriers and prejudices against him and reached out to the person who needed his care and attention. We know that he not only bandaged the wounds of the half dead man, but carried him to an innkeeper to care and nurse him; and upon his return to honour all the expenses incurred.
More specifically, let us remind ourselves that, through this parable, we not only affirm our need to be more compassionate to others as Christ has shown us, but also the innate goodness in every person. To live such Christ-like values, we need to turn away from our different forms of self-centeredness and instead “die to ourselves.” We also need to overcome the different prejudices and narrow perceptions we have of people like “Dave.”
The biggest temptation that is preventing us from being compassionate is “indifference” towards people who are in pain and suffering. Like the Levi and the Priest in today’s Gospel, we so easily convince ourselves and churn up many reasons to rationalise how we should mind our own business and not get involved in people’s lives, as our lives are in themselves already complex enough without them. These forms of reasoning are different deceptive ways that are typical of what the Levi and the priest in the Gospel used.
In conclusion, let us remind ourselves that there are many “wounded people in today’s world. They are all around us and can even be found within our own families: the sick, the aged, the lonely and depressed, the poor and needy and the like. As Christ’s disciples, we are each called to never bush them aside; instead embrace them as Christ would. Each of them is crying out in pain and for help like the wounded man in today’s Gospel.
Do we choose to walk by them and ignore them like the Levi and the priest or will we reach out to them compassionately like the “Samaritan man?” The choice is ours and if we do, Jesus in today’s Gospel will say to us, “my friend, you will surely inherit eternal life.”
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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