A perfect symmetry — the close of the Appeal and the parable of the Good Samaritan

We are always called to reflect on the issues of the day in the light of the Gospel.  Given the intense effort by so many to advocate for the social ministries of the diocese through the annual Catholic Charities Appeal and the disturbing violence we have witnessed over the past weeks, I was conflicted by the mix of elation and despair. On one hand our faithful had again come through with a record amount of generosity for the needy among us. On the other, our world was rent with suspicion, anger and mistrust of each other. How should we feel? Can I reconcile the examples of localized charity with the instances of grief and loss in Dallas, Baton Rouge, Minnesota and Nice? Where could I go to make sense of it all? Thank God for Pope Francis! 

My conviction was strengthened when I read the Gospel that Christians throughout the world heard recently in their Masses: the parable of the Good Samaritan. A much-beloved parable, the story hinges on a simple question put to Jesus by one of His opponents: “And just who is my neighbor?”

The parable is widely known. The Good Samaritan is understood as a remarkable example of compassion in action. However, the most challenging part of the parable is often lost. To grasp just how challenging the parable is, we have to remember that the Samaritans were a despised group for the people to whom Jesus was speaking. They were ethnic outsiders and thought of as heretics. Therefore, the lawyer who posed the question to Jesus would have been startled by Jesus’ very charitable observation of “The Good Samaritan.” Even the poor man who fell among the robbers. He may have been bewildered by the fact that he was abandoned by the priest and Levite, the holy men of his own tradition, but saved, consoled, and cared for by a hated outsider. Both cases (the case of the lawyer posing the question and the victim assisted by the Samaritan) are used by Jesus to challenge His followers to an examination of consciousness and a radical conversion of heart. In both cases, Jesus invites His audience to see people through God’s eyes.

I would like to conclude with some of the reflections on the parable of the Good Samaritan delivered by Pope Francis as part of a recent Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square. 

Pope Francis on the Good Samaritan:

“We too can ask ourselves this question: Who is my neighbor? Whom do I love as myself? My relatives? My friends? My fellow countrymen? Those of the same religion? Who is my neighbor?

“It is not up to us to try to categorize people, to see if they count as our neighbors. Rather, the decision to be, or not be a neighbor, depends on us. It depends on me. It depends on me to be or not be a neighbor to the person I meet who has need of my help, even if he’s a stranger, or even hostile. And Jesus concludes: ‘Go and do likewise’ (v. 37). It’s a great lesson! And He says to each of us: ‘Go and do likewise,’ especially to the brother or sister you see in trouble. ‘Go and do likewise.’ Do good works, do not just say words that go to the wind. 

“A song comes to mind: ‘Words, words, words.’ No. Please, do. Act. And by the good works that we do with love and joy for others, our faith grows and bears fruit. Let us ask ourselves — each of us responding in our heart — let us ask ourselves: Is our faith fruitful? Does our faith produce good works? Or is it rather sterile, and therefore more dead than alive? Am I ‘the neighbor’ or do I simply just pass along? Or am I among those who select people according to their own pleasure? It’s good to ask ourselves these questions and often because, in the end, we will be judged on the Works of Mercy. The Lord will say to us: ‘But you, you remember that time on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho? That man was Me half dead. Do you remember? That hungry child was Me. Do you remember? The migrant who many want to drive out it was Me. Those grandparents alone, abandoned in nursing homes, it was Me. That sick person alone in the hospital, that no one goes to see, was Me.’”

Although he was not directly addressing our nation’s and world’s troubles, I believe that his words offer us wisdom to confirm that our way forward must continue to emphasize charity and compassion and eschew anger and bitterness. Thank you to all who made this year’s Appeal an occasion of Mercy.

Anchor columnist James Campbell is director of the diocesan Development Office/Catholic Charities Appeal/Foundation to Advance Catholic Education.

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