by Margaret Retz
March 8, 2017
The parable of the Good Samaritan was one of those favorite stories that I heard many times in church and in “Catechism” class growing up in the 1950's. All of us kids knew the story and who the hero was and why the other characters were not! We knew all about being good citizens. Being kind to others was expected behavior in the small midwestern town I grew up in. Life was simple and we all knew the rules.
When I grew up I experienced a more challenging and complex life. I looked at many things differently. One of them was the faith of my childhood. It was no longer enough for me. My children were asking some hard questions about God and the Church. Questions that demanded honest answers from their mother. I felt like a hypocrite. What did I really believe? What was in my heart? I had some work to do.
And so began my “adult religious education” experience.. The process was taking longer than I expected. I finally realized that this journey of discovery was to be an ongoing one. It became a journey into my heart- into the core of who I was, to the place where God dwelled and waited for me.
Prayer, reading and listening with intention to scripture readings on Sundays helped in the search for some relevance to my current life situation. I began to look beyond the words, and found new understanding to some familiar gospel stories.
Tonight's parable of the Good Samaritan is one example. I had heard the story in church for many years and I always believed that I was a good Samaritan. I tried to help others and taught my children to do the same. But… was there something else going on in the parable that I needed to learn?
I thought about the Priest and the Levite characters in the parable. These were religious men who were well trained in what the Law demanded; how to be “neighbor”. Yet when put to the test each chose not to get involved.. What story did they tell themselves that would justify not stopping to help?
I wondered if I could I be more like them than I cared to admit? Like the Priest and Levite I was raised to help others. Yet I had to admit that at times I had acted a lot like them. I too had been guilty of “passing by” someone I knew who may have needed a listening ear or a kind word in order not to be late to a meeting or to tackle the next thing on my agenda. If I did stop I was often physically present, but my heart was not.
I remember other times when I deliberately crossed the street or took a different route to “avoid” encountering panhandlers or homeless people in need of help. Was I afraid of what might be asked of me? To see the humanity in their suffering?
The hero of the story is the Samaritan traveler whom Jesus describes as the one who was “moved by compassion.” The traveler like the priest and the Levite knew what to do, but he went well beyond the Old Testament thinking and practice of the time. He did not act out of a sense of “duty”. Instead he tended to the victim with “compassion and mercy.” Jesus ends the parable with the words, “Go and do likewise.”
Jesus sets a high bar for those wanting to “inherit eternal life”. To love one's neighbor is to treat others with compassion and mercy. The Scribe gave the correct answer, but it was the Samaritan traveler who showed how to put loving others into compassionate action.
I think I am being called to develop a heart that is more loving, compassionate and merciful. I believe that we are all called to do the same-to open the door of our hearts in welcome to God's deep love, compassion and mercy for ourselves first, and then to pass this on to all we meet. No exceptions.
I would like to close with a prayer written by Joyce Rupp.
The Heart of Compassion
Your generous presence is always attuned to hurting ones.
Your listening ear is bent
toward the cries of the wounded.
Your heart of love
fills with tears for the suffering.
Turn our inward eye to see that we are not alone.
We are part of all life.
Each one's joy and sorrow is
our joy and sorrow, and ours is theirs.
May we draw strength
from this inner communion.
May it daily recommit us
to be a compassionate presence
for all who struggle with life's pain.