As a very young child, the first thing I learned about the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10: 29-37) was to practice what you preach. The modern world refers to this as the call to be authentic. The parable is structured as an invitation to reflect upon what faith looks like in action. I have always read this parable focused upon my responsibilities as a rescuer. I want to focus upon the parable from the perspective of the victim.
As a teenager, one of my first jobs was as leader of a park’s summer recreation program. Being a leader meant completing the time cards, organizing the serving of the free lunch, and transporting the sports equipment to and from the storage shed. The toughest part was the latter. That building housed the park’s restrooms and shed. It was staffed by a very grumpy adult woman. I literally trembled in her presence.
One fellow teenage staffer expected to skip the work yet still be paid. She and I had a few conversations regarding expectations. Each week her time card reflected the actual hours she had worked. One Friday afternoon she and a group of her friends showed up to give me a beat down.
When you alone battle a group, there is this frightening moment when you realize you are overwhelmed. You are at the mercy of your attackers. And you know, too, that mercy is not what they came to give. Then you fall to the ground covering your head and torso.
From the ground, I could see my colleagues. None came to help or called for assistance. I don’t think I will ever forget the one who actually physically turned her back on me. Suddenly, an ear splitting scream pierced the air. The assailants broke ranks and ran for cover.
It was, of course, the adult woman coming to my rescue. I marveled at her courage and power. I glimpsed the kindness beneath her ornery veneer. I asked to call my mom. I hope I remembered to thank her for saving me.
In my educator’s opinion, the city administrators earned an “F” (failure) in their response. As if I were the problem, they moved me! I lost. So did all the little kids in that park. The administrators failed to communicate to the bully that actions have consequences. Without that understanding, the bully could never inform her conscience so as to be able to make a better decision. She lost. Everyone lost. I have always wondered if the administrators ever recognized their fear of being found out as the call of their conscience.
In essence, the Good Samaritan parable calls us as individuals and as a society to answer the question, “How will I respond once I recognize another’s need?” Turning one’s back, pretending not to see, or walking away faster are all actions selected only after the decision has been made that one will not assist. Administrators, whether they be secular or religious, who select the “not my job to fix it” option, choose to turn their back on the opportunity to work alongside God to bring about God’s Kingdom. They lose the chance to help change this world for the better.
I share this painful memory because there is an underlying truth to be found within the story. Both the woman who ran to my assistance and I were changed by her choice of that one action. I saw a woman who suddenly radiated joy and peace. As an adult, I can discuss this as an example of the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. What emanated from her was God’s infinite love and mercy. My grateful teenage self simply wished she always continued to experience that joy. I internalized her example. My adult self lives the lesson she taught me.
That teenager she rescued blossomed to be an educator, someone who can diagnose a student’s blockade point to determine the root cause. Someone who can imagine, then implement a pathway for success for each individual student. At Connolly, I was the STEM go-to person for any student who struggled or was anticipated to struggle. In college teaching, I brought evening school adults up to speed on study skills and math alongside the science curriculum.
The prior paragraph is not about vainglory. The data are needed to appreciate what would have been lost to the world had that woman not bothered to save me. God granted me the eye to see and the heart to assist students the world had abandoned. The use of those talents to serve my (student) neighbors in my chosen ministry is part of my service to Our Lord.
The traveler in the Good Samaritan parable lived in a world that taught him the false wisdom to distrust (and hate) people like the fallen victim. The traveler listened to God’s gentle whisper to his heart He put down those worldly labels. He simply responded to aid the person before him. Thousands of years later, our world still tends to marginalize then encapsulate victims. Such actions are a disservice to mankind as well as to the victim. A culture of supporting life means stepping up to allow the victim label to dissolve. Supporting life means encouraging each person to continue to grow and share his or her God-given talents.
The parable does not end with the traveler tossing coins to the inn keeper. The story ends with the traveler saying he will check back the next time he passes that way. He will come back to be with that person. Jesus does not leave the story as merely a philosophical or ethical discussion. Once the scholar correctly identifies the neighbor, Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”
Anchor columnist Dr. Helen J. Flavin, Ph.D., is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer.