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Jesus tells the Good Samaritan story in the Gospel for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary time, Year C, and it comes just in time for us to learn what we are supposed to do in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
God is demanding that we be willing not just to preach what is right, but to act on it — even with those who we don’t naturally get along with; even with those who actively oppose what we stand for. Because that is what he did for us.
Before we apply it to our times, notice what the Good Samaritan story meant in the First Century.
As Jesus tells the story, a man “falls victim to robbers” on the rough downhill road from Jerusalem to Jericho. People looking for money violated him and didn’t care what happened next in his life — “They stripped him and beat him and left him half-dead.”
A priest and Levite passed by without helping him. We think of them as haughty, uncaring people, but in the First Century context they could easily have had very good reason not to stop.
They may have needed to avoid ritual uncleanness because of their duties to God and their congregations. Touching a dead person would put a priest out of commission for a week. They also may have feared for their safety. The road to Jericho was notoriously unsafe. Robbers could be lying in wait for someone to stop to help the injured man, or the victim might even have been a decoy placed to attract do-gooders who could themselves be robbed.
We can guess that the priest and Levite are like the scholar Jesus tells the parable to. He knows the law. He knows that “You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” The scholar sees the commandment clearly — especially, perhaps, the “love him with your mind” part — but is unclear about the service part, asking “Who is my neighbor?” The priest and Levite in the story are “know-it-alls” who fail in the same way.
But a Samaritan traveler comes and “moved with compassion at the sight” pours oil and wine over the wounds of the victim, bandages him, carries him on his own mount, and pays for him to stay at an inn.
There are two ways to think of the parable. Applying it to ourselves, we are the Good Samaritan, and need to “go and do likewise,” as Jesus puts it, serving others in crisis. Applying it to the Church, all humanity is the victim of the rebellious angels, Christ is the Good Samaritan and the Church is the Inn where we recover while we await his Second Coming.
But here’s another way to think of the parable after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
What if women who are pregnant in difficult circumstances are the victim in the story? They too were often used by men then discarded, and many face financial crisis as a result. For them, we have made our whole world like the rough road from Jerusalem to Jericho, where we expect women to be sexually available outside of the protection of marriage, and allow men to walk away from their responsibility once women, inevitably, become pregnant. Corporations that eagerly pay for their abortions make matters worse, paying to get rid of the child so that nothing will interfere with their workers’ hours in the office.
So, if abortion-minded women are the victims, men who use women for sex and corporations who use them for their own profit are the robbers.
And who are we? Too often we are the priest and Levite in the story.
On the matter of abortion, many of us are experts in God’s law. It is crystal clear to us that an unborn child should never be killed. But we forget the second commandment.
One woman I spoke with said that seeing a priest holding an “Abortion Is Murder” sign actually made her more likely to have an abortion, because it only made the shame of her situation feel overwhelming. On the other hand, the same woman was moved by her sister’s “Choose Life” sign and found her greatest healing by finally confessing her sins to a priest.
In other words, pro-life messages were only effective for her when she heard them from people who simultaneously believed the truth about the right to life and loved her personally and treated her mercifully.
Then, notice what the Good Samaritan in the story offers the victim: costly, lengthy, hands-on help. That kind of personal care is the only form of service that works when you are dealing with a person in crisis.
Another woman who had an abortion told me that many pregnancy resource centers she called offered her a pro-life message and a list of phone numbers where she could find help. Her desperate state of mind made it impossible for her to face the exercise of organizing help from various quarters, so she headed to the abortion clinic. It was only when a pro-life woman called her and pledged to help her each step of the way, before and after giving birth, that she turned away from abortion.
Frankly, we could all do a lot more for women who face crisis pregnancies.
It is absolutely true that pro-abortion voices willfully ignore the many wonderful things the pro-life movement is doing to serve women. And it is also true that, no matter what, it is wrong to kill a human being and abortion should be illegal.
But at the same time, it is undeniable that pro-lifers could give more money, offer more hours, make more phone calls, and post more encouragement and love for women facing difficult circumstances.
We not only can do more, but to be authentic followers of Jesus, imitators of the Good Samaritan worthy of eternal life, we must. “You have answered correctly” Jesus is saying to pro-lifers. But now “do this and you will live.”
It’s not knowing the truth, but doing it that matters. “For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you,” the First Reading, from Deuteronomy says. “No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”
But through it all, never forget that Jesus is the true Good Samaritan.
We Christians are not God’s gift to the universe. Far from it. We are all victims of sin and death, the world’s robbers, and only Christ can save us. The whole Second Reading is a beautiful meditation on the radical Christ-centeredness that is the essence of Christianity. “Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God,” St. Paul writes. “[A]ll things were created through him and for him.”
He is the Good Samaritan who came from heaven, a stranger in our streets, and gave us costly service to restore us to health, “making peace by the blood of his cross.” He left us in the hands of the Inn, his Church, where he pours out the “oil and wine” of his sacraments for our healing and guards us in his safe house.
We serve those who have fallen victim to evil not because we are better than them, but because we stand together with them in need of a savior.