From One Neighbor to Another

So…Good Samaritan – one of my favorites for lots of reasons – but also one I think I get lazy with sometimes. A holy and wise priest once talked about the many pieces of historical context we miss sometimes – and it was in preparation for the 2015 Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.

He talked about the crowd of important religious figures and regular people who might have heard Jesus’ story – but also about the people in the story — and I still think a lot about what #FrEricA said 🙂

That man who was robbed also had some significant personal work to do.

He was half-dead – but in the astute observation of Miracle Max from the Princess Bride:

Inigo Montoya : He’s dead. He can’t talk.

Miracle Max : Whoo-hoo-hoo, look who knows so much. It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do.

Inigo Montoya : What’s that? 

Miracle Max : Go through his clothes and look for loose change.


Sidebar…the pieces of ourselves that spend a lifetime being mostly dead but slightly alive is a whole other Christological and sacramental blog entry (a.k.a. the Theology of Billy Crystal, Theology of the Princess Bride…) for another time…


Slightly alive might suggest the man was slightly conscious. He might have known what was happening to him…or maybe not…but here’s the deal. Even if he had no idea what was happening to him while it was happening – he would have woken up and figured out/been told what happened to him and would have had to live with this reality:

Samaritans were outcasts.

An entire people who were subjects of terrible marginalization, racism, lies, and half-truths:

Dirty blood.

Said to have mated with animals.

Said to be people who tempted others away from the own faith communities.

Said to be out of favor with the God of the Israelites and tossed out of the tribes and left to be nomadic travelers with no land of their own – a sign of belonging to no one. Became polytheistic over time. #NaughtyBad

The people of the magical world of Harry Potter would have called Samaritans “mudbloods.”

Thus — absolutely people outside the chosen people of the Jewish community.

And since they were outside the 12 tribes, outside the covenant, and outside the Mosaic law and that of Leviticus – to encounter a Samaritan risked your own ritual cleanliness and reputation for a variety of reasons.

Even Jesus himself would have been raised with some of this cultural hatred and injustice – n.b. – not with intentionality on the part(s) of Mary/Joseph, and certainly not that he participated – but I imagine his consistent choice of Samaritans as the heroes of the stories and even in his own encounters with the Woman at the Well (and also the Syrophoenician woman and the table and the crumbs and the dogs) was an intentional effort to challenge and/or redirect the efforts and impact of such poor and incomplete understandings.

We hear all the time that the Good Samaritan is the guy we’re supposed to be like – and that’s true enough…but what about the guy who fell victim to robbers?

It’s easy to help people who we’re “supposed” to help. And perhaps it’s not so difficult for them to accept help if they know they need it. But what about the people I’ve been tricked into believing are different – less than – or even wholly (or holy) invisible to me? The people who are not kind to me? The people who make my life hard? The people who don’t see (or care) who I really am? The people who I think make wrong or careless decisions. The people who I really believe cannot see the big picture? What about those guys? The people who would never EVER accept help from anyone?

Is it easy to help them? NO.

That’s the point of the story – to broaden my perception of neighbor.


What about what it must be like for those people to accept help from me?

But WAIT! I am a TREAT! Who wouldn’t want MY help?


Each of us is someone’s nightmare. For all the wrong reasons. But still a fact.

There is probably at least 1 person who would shrink backwards in cringey-anxiety at my help.

Actually…probably way more than 1. Or 2. Or 10.

And now…what if I am that person?

We can presume the man who was robbed was a practicing Jew – based on Jesus’ context.

We know how badly he was hurt – because the priest and the Levite did not even bother to get close enough to him for a good look. They assumed he was dead from a distance. Touching a dead body renders one ritually unclean – so they would not have been able to enter the temple to do their presumed work/sacrifice/offering on behalf of their community if they touched him — so they passed him by.

Interesting…they passed by the real work in favor of the work they “were called” to do. I have a hard time not being just a little judgey about this. But also I think it says something important about how well we really pay attention to people in the world we share. How well do I really #encuentro? How am I really doing at authentically knowing and honoring the dignity of a person?

At any rate…

The guy knew the rules.

The priest knew the rules.

The Levite knew the rules.

The Samaritan knew the rules.

Even the innkeeper knew the rules. We don’t know who he was – but taking money that belonged to a Samaritan for an unknown man in need of serious medical attention and being asked to additionally keep an eye on him and further physically care for him (now unclean because of his interaction with the Samaritan) on the word of a cultural and religious outcast on promise of return would probably not have been an everyday occurrence. #JustSayin’.


The man would have had to be humble enough – or just plain beaten to a pulp enough — to allow himself to be touched. To be helped. And to take on the serious consequences of such an encounter.

The man was now considered to be unclean.

Could not be helped by his family.

Could not be helped by a religious leader.

Could not enter the temple.

Could not share food, utensils, shelter, medicine, medical care, prayer, or any other interaction among Jews without ritual cleansing and a truckload of other spiritual hoops to jump. While sick. And broken. I don’t know about you – but when I’m sick – I can’t even drag myself to the store for juice or medicine. But those options would be off the table here. I couldn’t be in a public place — by the very nature of my uncleanliness. Can you imagine?

I am challenged this time reading the parable of the Good Samaritan — to consider the very last person I would ever want to touch me – much less help me. Care for me. Be moved with compassion at the sight of me at my most weak moment. Lift me (and I am a pretty fluffy person) onto an animal. Comfort me. Stay with me. Spend money on me. Come back and check on me. My worst enemy. The person who clearly thinks I am a waste of time, space, and skin. It makes my stomach turn right now just thinking about how many people are on that list. That’s not okay. Time to start working on this.

Who is it who would cause my heart to sink inside if they saw me at my smallest, weakest, most humiliating moment? Who is my nightmare? This is likely how the man felt at seeing the Samaritan coming at him to help. I can totally imagine myself thinking: “Die…or take the help?”

I’ve been there.

This encounter – on both sides – is the actual encounter of authentic mercy.

This is what God means when He gives me Jesus.

This is what Jesus means when He gives me — and everyone on or off that list I keep running in my head — His life in ransom for mine.

I had the opportunity to attend Mass this weekend in a new place — and in a place where I am not on staff. I was taken aback with how much the little liturgical idiosyncrasies that usually make me nuts (because I care deeply about good liturgy that flows from the person of God — into and out of the people of a particular place) didn’t bother me at all — and I sat wondering about the story of the place, the celebrant, the ministers, etc.. And it reminded me of how really mean and judgmental I can really be. And in a solid — healthy-self-reflection sort of way: that I am certainly a trial for many people. An acquired taste, if you will. But how tolerant am I of that element in others?

Whose nightmare am I? What must that person or people struggle to accept my help? What can I do to make it easier?

And who do I need to humble myself to be able to allow to encounter me in weakness? Who must I allow to really help me?

Happy Memorial of St. Bonaventure #SeraphicDoctorYO


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