How to Really Understand the Parable of the Good Samaritan

This Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 10:25-37) might be Jesus’ best-known story. How many times have you heard the phrase, “Good Samaritan”? Even non-Christians know the term suggests someone who is kind, generous, or brave. But few of us fully understand – much less live up to – the demands of Jesus’ teaching. Here are 10 things we too often miss in this story:

  • This is no ordinary story: A lawyer asks Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” There is no question more important for a Jewish person to ask. This story is not just one among others; it stands with Matthew 25:31-46 as essential for salvation. As Jesus makes clear in this story, when it comes to eternal life, what matters isn’t what one knows or believes, but what one does or fails to do.
  • Love God by loving your neighbor: The lawyer answers his own question: the way to eternal life is loving God and our neighbors (Luke 10:27). Or, another way of saying this is: we love God by loving our neighbors. Dorothy Day puts a finer point on this: “You love God as much as the one you love the least.” Jesus responds to the lawyer, “Do this and you will live” (Lk 10:28). It’s not enough to know this; you have to do it.
  • Who is my neighbor? is the wrong question: The lawyer pushes further. He asks, “Who is my neighbor?” a question that we might take for granted. But this is a limit-seeking question. It aims to identify the non-neighbor, the one beyond my moral obligation. In other words, the lawyer wants to know: who are the ones I’m not expected to love like I love God? Jesus takes this question and turns it on its head. He does this in two ways: first, by using a Samaritan in the story (see #6) and second, by changing the question around: “Who was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” (Lk 10:36). The lawyer views neighbor as an object, the recipient of duty. Jesus views neighbor as a proactively loving subject. Who is my neighbor? is the wrong question to ask. Instead, we should ask: What kind of neighbor am I? or To whom am I a neighbor?
  • Move from judgment to compassion: Jesus tells the story of a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, the only parable with a specific geographic location. Why? Because the road to Jericho was notoriously unsafe. It descended from the heights of Jerusalem via switchback curves, ideal for ambush. In other words, Jesus’ audience had no sympathy for the man who was beaten, stripped, robbed, and left for dead. He was a fool to travel the road alone; he got what was coming to him. Jesus tells the story banking on his audience’s contempt for the robbers’ victim, seeking to replace that judgment with compassion.
  • Confront the sin of indifference: Jesus says a priest and Levite see the robbers’ victim but “pass by on the opposite side” of the road. In other words, they create more distance between themselves and the man left for dead. These religious leaders were charged with loving their neighbor (Leviticus 19:18, which the lawyer cites in Luke 10:27) but fail. Maybe they were running late, thinking about their to-do list, or more concerned about remaining pure for their ritual tasks. Whatever the case, nothing should come before showing concern for someone left for dead. Pope Francis cites the priest and Levite as examples of the “globalization of indifference.” Whenever we think “that’s not my problem” or “they don’t belong to me,” we’re acting more like the priest and Levite than the Samaritan.
  • “Good Samaritan” makes no sense: We know this story so well that once we hear the word “Samaritan,” we know the hero arrives on the scene. But for Jesus’ audience, a Samaritan was the most despised outcast they could imagine. It’s hard to come up with a contemporary analogy, but a modern-day Samaritan would have to be the kind of person who would make your stomach turn and your skin crawl. This is the last person on earth you would imagine Jesus to endorse.
  • These kinds of actions matter: The Samaritan’s actions receive more detailed description than anyone else in the gospels, aside from Jesus. Why? Because Jesus is describing what it means to be a neighbor: to act with courage (going into the ditch, where the Samaritan could’ve been ambushed), compassion (this is what moves the Samaritan to offer assistance – a visceral reaction to another who is suffering), generosity (the oil and wine to heal his wounds and the payment for his recovery at the inn), and boundary-breaking solidarity (enlisting others in his care, showing that we’re in this together, even though the Samaritan would’ve been received with suspicion if not hostility at the inn).
  • Do what you can, where you are: The Samaritan wasn’t out looking for people to help. And he doesn’t quit his job or abandon his family in order to make the road to Jericho safe for other travelers. He saw someone in need, went out of his way and into the ditch to ease his suffering, and went on his way. This isn’t a story about a superhero; it’s a story about doing what you can – no more and no less. Everyone can and should be like the Samaritan.
  • Mercy is who God is and what God wants: When Jesus turns the question around, asking the lawyer, “Who was neighbor to the robber’s victim?” the lawyer is so embarrassed that he can’t bring himself to say “Samaritan.” So instead, the lawyer responds, “The one who treated him with mercy” (Luke 10:37). This reflects a central theme in Scripture: mercy is who God is (Exodus 34:6) and what God wants (Luke 6:36). Put differently: our piety or holiness is measured by our mercifulness.
  • Do likewise: Jesus ends the story by saying, “Go and do likewise.” He doesn’t say, “Go and do exactly the same thing” or “go and do this once in a while.” Too many people think that being a “Good Samaritan” means volunteering, doing random acts of kindness, or helping strangers in an emergency. This is not why Jesus tells this story (especially not a story framed by inheriting eternal life). Rather, Jesus teaches his followers to apply the Samaritan’s courage, compassion, generosity, and boundary-breaking solidarity in their everyday life. What would the world be like if we thought the state of our soul were determined by our consistent emulation of the Samaritan?

With this story, Jesus issues a radical challenge to his followers: there are no non-neighbors. There is no one you can write off as “other” or “outsider” or “outcast.” We have to shatter the illusion that keeps us from seeing that we belong to each other. As Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ reminds us, “There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ – only ‘us.’”

This is a tall order. Especially in a time of hyperpartisanship where winning is seen as more important than a shared commitment to the common good. Political polarization reinforces an “us versus them” tribalism that has nine in ten Americans saying the nation is more divided now than at any point in their lifetime. In a 2018 poll, roughly half of Democrats described Republicans as ignorant (54%) and spiteful (44%) while a similar proportion of Republicans described Democrats as ignorant (49%) and spiteful (54%). 61% of Democrats labeled Republicans racist, sexist, or bigoted while 31% of Republicans applied these terms to Democrats. Perhaps most concerning of all, more than twenty percent of Republicans (23%) and Democrats (21%) called members of the other party “evil.” Only four percent of both parties think the other side is fair and even fewer describe them as thoughtful or kind. We have normalized the demonization of people on the other side of the party aisle, making it harder to recognize that we belong to each other, rely on each other, and will ultimately be judged by how we treat each other.

Social fragmentation and fragility continues: by sex, gender, and sexual orientation; by class and creed; by ethnicity and race; by nationality and legal status; by age and ability, etc. A few examples: Christians are more than twice as likely as non-Christians to blame the poor for their financial struggles, a judgment that creates distance from them. Half of Catholics say the U.S. does not have a responsibility to welcome refugees (despite Pope Francis’ global “Share the Journey” campaign). Only 31% of Republicans say that migrants from Central America should be able to seek asylum in the U.S. (which is a legal right) and 62% of Republicans approve the way that migrants are being treated at the border, even though conditions are so gruesome that 24 people have died in the custody of immigration officials. Manufactured fear ascribes disease, crime, and violence to migrants without basis in fact. It is used to justify cruelty in separating families, indefinitely detaining children in cages, and threatening deportation raids that inflict terror and trauma on countless people seeking the same things we want: peace and security.

Dehumanizing rhetoric and shrinking understandings of what we owe each other contribute to what Pope Francis calls a “throwaway culture.” We disregard those we see as different, as other, as not belonging to us. But the example of the Samaritan resists throwaway culture; instead of discarding others in need, he draws near them. The Samaritan replaces judgment with compassion, fear with courage, self-interest with generosity, and separation with solidarity.

What keeps us from going out of our way and into the ditch, to care for those who have been beaten, stripped, robbed, and left for dead? What keeps us from speaking up for the poor and marginalized, being their advocate and ally? What keeps us from drawing near those we consider “other” or outside our network of belonging?

If we call ourselves Christians, then we have to evaluate the depth of our commitment to “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). Not just once in a while or in an emergency, but wherever we are, however we can – no more and no less. Because how we treat others (including those we might dislike or even despise) is how we treat God.


7 Great Fictional Female Role Models for Girls (and Boys!)

Millennial editor Robert Christian writes:

As parents, my wife and I look for role models that reinforce the lessons that we teach our kids and display behavior that corresponds with an approach to life that aligns with our understanding of morality, human flourishing and a life of joy.

Role models show that strength and compassion are not opposites. They prove that women can pursue and achieve excellence, while still valuing relationships and other people. They teach kids that real courage is not bravado or a lust for recklessness, but perseverance and determination in the face of serious obstacles to achieving what is right and just.

Here are seven fictional role models that can inspire kids of all ages.

Wonder Woman

In the DC universe’s most acclaimed film, Wonder Woman declares, “I’m willing to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.”…

Moana

Moana breaks the “curse of the good girl” by breaking from conventions out of love for her people. She loves and respects her parents, but her sense of mission or call leads her to heroically undertake an adventure to save the world….

Katniss Everdeen

In the Hunger Games series, Katniss Everdeen is willing to risk her own life to save her sister in a selfless act of love….


Pope Francis on Jean Vanier

via Pope Francis:

Recently, we were saddened by the death of a great apostle of the poor, Jean Vanier, whose dedication opened up new ways of showing solidarity with the marginalized and working for their advancement. God gave Jean Vanier the gift of devoting his entire life to our brothers and sisters with grave disabilities, people whom society often tends to exclude. He was one of those saints “next door”; thanks to his enthusiasm, he gathered around himself great numbers of young people, men and women, who worked daily to give love and restore a smile to many vulnerable persons, offering them a true “ark” of salvation from marginalization and solitude. His witness changed the life of countless persons and helped the world to look differently at those less fortunate than ourselves. The cry of the poor was heard and produced an unwavering hope, creating visible and tangible signs of a concrete love that even today we can touch with our hands.


A Circle That Excludes No One

Meghan Clark writes:

Consider, for example, the rose window: a massive, intricate mixture of colors and shapes all forming a singular circle. For its creators the rose window was not just art but a symbol of mathematical perfection. The circle is a shape with no beginning and no end, intended to draw our imagination into contemplating the perfection of God. This paradigmatic medieval symbol of God’s transcendence is also a vehicle for contemplating our humanity and the immanence of God.

The circle is the shape we often use to situate our network of human relationships—our circle of friends. In describing solidarity and the call to be one human family, Jesuit Father Greg Boyle asks us to “imagine a circle of kinship and now imagine no one is outside of that circle.” Reflecting on the rose window with its intricate unity in diversity leads me to the immanence of God in the incarnation and today, to the vulnerability of migrants so often left out of that circle.

As Christians, we are called to live lives of discipleship and to more fully be the people of God in the world. In Lumen Gentium (The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), the unity of the people of God does not have borders. Can we imagine a world in which no one is left out of our circle of concern? Borderland faith communities are living out this vision of kinship and discipleship every day. In dynamic communities like El Paso, Texas and Juárez, Mexico, families and faith communities struggle against borders that exclude people from the circle. Bishop Mark J. Seitz and the Hope Border Institute concretely demonstrated this by traveling to Guatemala to visit the families of Jakelin Caal Maquin and Felipe Gomez Alonzo, children who died in U.S. custody in El Paso….

As I think back to Notre-Dame and its iconic rose window, transcendence and immanence come together in its circle. For me, the circle is no longer a symbol of mathematical perfection but of Jesus’ prayer “that they may be one as we are one.” And so we are called, in humility, to see the sacred in every person, and every circle, and to be one in kinship.


Summer Reading and Resources

Millennial Catholic Susan Reynolds offers some recommendations for summer reading (and resources):

First, Dr. Reynolds suggests Jean Vanier’s Becoming Human (Paulist Press, 2008). Vanier, who died in May at age 90, was the founder of L’Arche (French for “the ark”), the global network of small communities in which persons with and without intellectual disabilities live together in relationships of friendship and care. Reynolds notes that “there is a wonderful L’Arche community here in Decatur.” Vanier wrote extensively on topics of vulnerability, community, otherness, and Christian theology and spirituality. Becoming Human is one of his most enduring classics….

Finally, plug in your headphones for Deliver Us, a 12-episode podcast produced this year by America Media and hosted by Maggi van Dorn. This series provides a deeply pastoral look at the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic church. Reynolds explains that this is “the epitome of a timely, relevant, theologically rich, pastorally sensitive podcast and relevant to listeners beyond those who are Catholic.”


Pope Francis: The Poor Save Us

Highlights from Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of the Poor:

How many times do we see poor people rummaging through garbage bins to retrieve what others have discarded as superfluous, in the hope of finding something to live on or to wear! They themselves become part of a human garbage bin; they are treated as refuse, without the slightest sense of guilt on the part of those who are complicit in this scandal. Frequently judged parasites on society, the poor are not even forgiven their poverty. Judgment is always around the corner. They are not allowed to be timid or discouraged; they are seen as a threat or simply useless, simply because they are poor.

To make matters worse, they can see no end to the tunnel of extreme poverty. We have come to the point of devising a hostile architecture aimed at ridding the streets of their presence, the last places left to them. They roam from one end of the city to the other in the hope of getting a job, a home, a sign of affection… The least offer becomes a ray of light; yet even where justice might be expected to prevail, they meet with violence and abuse. Forced to work endless hours under a burning sun to gather seasonal fruits, they receive ridiculously low pay. They labour in unsafe and inhuman conditions that prevent them from feeling on a par with others. They lack unemployment compensation, benefits, or even provision for sickness.

The Psalmist describes with brutal realism the attitude of the rich who rob the poor: “They lie in wait that they may seize the poor… and drag them off in their net” (cf. Ps 10:9). As in a hunt, the poor are trapped, captured and enslaved. As a result, many of them become disheartened, hardened and anxious only to drop out of sight. In a word, we see before us a multitude of poor people often maligned and barely tolerated. They become for all effects invisible and their voice is no longer heard or heeded in society. Men and women who are increasingly strangers amid our houses and outcasts in our neighborhoods….

Scripture constantly speaks of God acting on behalf of the poor. He is the one who “hears” their cry” and “comes to their aid”; he “protects” and “defends” them; he “rescues” and “saves” them… Indeed, the poor will never find God indifferent or silent in the face of their plea. God is the one who renders justice and does not forget (cf. Ps 40:18; 70:6); he is their refuge and he never fails to come to their assistance (cf. Ps 10:14).

We can build any number of walls and close our doors in the vain effort to feel secure in our wealth, at the expense of those left outside. It will not be that way for ever. The “day of the Lord”, as described by the prophets (cf. Am 5:18; Is 2-5; Jl 1-3), will destroy the barriers created between nations and replace the arrogance of the few with the solidarity of many. The marginalization painfully experienced by millions of persons cannot go on for long. Their cry is growing louder and embraces the entire earth. In the words of Father Primo Mazzolari: “the poor are a constant protest against our injustices; the poor are a powder keg. If it is set on fire, the world will explode”….

Commitment to the promotion of the poor, including their social promotion, is not foreign to the proclamation of the Gospel. On the contrary, it manifests the realism of Christian faith and its historical validity. The love that gives life to faith in Jesus makes it impossible for his disciples to remain enclosed in a stifling individualism or withdrawn into small circles of spiritual intimacy, with no influence on social life (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 183)….

“The option for those who are least, those whom society discards” (Evangelii Gaudium, 195) is a priority that Christ’s followers are called to pursue, so as not to impugn the Church’s credibility but to give real hope to many of our vulnerable brothers and sisters….

It is not easy to be witnesses of Christian hope in the context of a consumerist culture, a culture of waste concerned only for the spread of a shallow and ephemeral wellbeing. A change of mentality is needed, in order to rediscover what is essential and to give substance and verve to the preaching of the kingdom of God….

The poor are persons to be encountered; they are lonely, young and old, to be invited to our homes to share a meal; men women and children who look for a friendly word. The poor save us because they enable us to encounter the face of Jesus Christ.


Bishop Seitz Protests Trump Immigration Policies at Border Bridge

via KVIA:

El Paso’s Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz, along with clergy from the Diocese of Ciudad Juárez, led what they called a “Faith Action” at the U.S.-Mexico Border on Thursday afternoon to protest what they called the “devastating consequences of inhumane border policies.”

Bishop Seitz crossed the Lerdo International Bridge (Stanton Street Bridge) on foot to accompany and pray with a handful of migrants returned from El Paso to Ciudad Juárez as part of the “Remain in Mexico” program.

The Bishop asked Customs and Border Protection officials to allow the immigrants to remain in the U.S. while they go thru the process of seeking asylum.

After lengthy discussions with immigration authorities and attorneys, the bishop was allowed to cross with the migrants back into the U.S.

The diocese issued a statement outlining the reason for the protest. It cited “actions taken to criminalize migration at the U.S.-Mexico border, including the expansion of the “Remain in Mexico” policy, the deployment of security forces of both countries to the border, the ongoing deaths of migrant families in the Rio Grande and grave conditions in migrant processing centers,”