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The parable of the Good Samaritan that we hear this Sunday (the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C) stands as a strong rebuke to a Christianity that does not serve others.
But don’t take my word for it: Every Pope in memory has said so.
Pope Paul VI put it in the most succinct way: “The Good Samaritan is the Church! The Good Samaritan is every man and woman! By calling! By duty!”
The story of the Good Samaritan tells the story of a “half-dead” victim who robbers left by the side of the road. Jesus tells us that first, two religious figures pass by without helping; eventually a kindly foreigner not only tends to the victim’s wounds, but puts him up in an inn and sees to his care.
Pope John Paul II said that this is because Jesus Christ is the original, cosmic “Good Samaritan” — the singular figure described in today’s second reading from Colossians, a “stranger” who gives all to save us.
“Christ, the Son of God, is the Good Samaritan par excellence,” he said. “He is the Savior who finds humanity half-dead by the roadside and stops to heal our wounds. By his death on the Cross, he revealed ‘the tender mercy of our God,’ who desires that all men be saved. By his Resurrection, he restored us to life, to spiritual health. And in return he invites us to love others as he himself has loved us.”
In fact, the Vatican, in the lead-up to the Jubilee Year of 2000, used the parable for a preparatory examination of conscience.
The questions it asked are every bit as relevant today:
“Which side are you on? Are you someone with a hard heart, who ignores the expectations of their neighbor, or are you someone with a merciful heart? There is no third way. Your choices, your behavior will judge you.”
The examination recommended asking these questions of ourselves: “How do I describe my relations with others, along the lines of the priest or the Levite, or along the lines of the Samaritan? What resistance or difficulties do I encounter to accomplish the project of the Good Samaritan in my life?” For those who “pass by” the world’s victims, “The simple fact of having passed by will be how they will be judged and they will be condemned. They have a hard heart; they do not know the merciful heart of their God.”
Pope Benedict XVI suggests we take Jesus’ message to heart after we have completed that examination of conscience.
“At the end of the parable, Jesus said: ‘Go and do likewise.’ With these words he is also addressing us. Jesus exhorts us to bend over the physical and mental wounds of so many of our brothers and sisters whom we meet on the highways of the world,” he said. “He helps us to understand that with God’s grace, accepted and lived out in our daily life, the experience of sickness and suffering can become a school of hope.”
Benedict added that “sidestepping or fleeing from suffering” never works, “but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.”
Of course, the ministry style of the Good Samaritan has also been central to the message of Francis’s pontificate from the beginning, when he said famously said in an interview that the Church should be like a “field hospital after battle.”
“The Church’s ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the Good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbor,” he said. “This is pure Gospel. … The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost.”
There is no other Christianity but the Christianity of the Good Samaritan.
“Go and do likewise,” as Jesus put it. “Do this and you will live.”
The Gregorian Institute is Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).