5 October 2009 Monday of 27th Week in Ordinary Time
Jonah 1, 1 - 2,11; Jonah 2, 3-8; Luke 10, 25-37
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is relevant today at the height of natural disasters as floods in the Philippines and India, tsunami in Samoa, earthquakes in Indonesia and Taiwan. The Gospel which includes the two greatest commandments suggest that our love for our neighbor springs from our basic love for God. The parable is important because it expands the meaning of ‘neighbor’ and illustrates that compassion is for all people.
The story begins with a victim of a robbery attack who was left on the road to die. Three passers-by saw him: a priest, who avoided him in view of purity laws; a Levite, a priestly class, who avoided him; and a Samaritan, considered an enemy of the Jews, who helped him. Today, the popularity of the parable can be found in how people understand the present-day Samaritan. At present, a Samaritan means a generous individual who provides aid to a needy person without hesitation. Thus, a Samaritan is someone who gives a positive response to the call of the Gospel. Their response is non-discriminatory. Their generosity is beyond race or segmentation or classification.
In the Philippines, commentaries highlight the positive response of private Samaritans to victims of natural calamities. But there are horror stories of selective charity. A barangay captain was caught setting aside relief goods solely for his family and friends. The best working rubber boats were preferentially given to the rich members of a plush subdivision affected by the flood. A mayor ordered his staff to stick his name on relief bags, while military trucks who took relief goods from the Ateneo covered courts where brought to Camp Crame for a politician’s photo-op before sending them to affected areas.
The parable’s message is explosive for many of us whose greatest talent is to categorize, classify, and catalogue people. The parable teaches us that an individual of a social group they disapprove or consider a rival can exhibit a superior moral behavior to their opponent in need. It also means that not sharing the same faith, interest or affiliate is no excuse to behave poorly. It also means that we can rise above our prejudices and let our human heart see the heart of another in need.
The parable also has some spiritual implications. The people expected to help, like the priest and the Levites, did not lift a finger to help the dying man while the Samaritan, whom we didn’t expect to provide assistance, did offer his services and restored the person to life. Similarly, the Philippine government whose aid people pinned their hopes to failed to deliver. Those we didn’t expect such as the young whom many of us brand as apathetic left the comfort of their homes to provide the human power to quickly respond to people’s desperation and urgent supplication.
For the priest and the Levite, to touch a dead person means to go through the purity rituals in order to be clean again. To aid the victim was inconvenient. During His ministry, Jesus helped those who were considered outcasts and sinners even to the point of being ridiculed by the “holy men” of the Temple.
But like all parables of Jesus, the image of the Samaritan sticks because it asks rather bluntly: Would we help only when it is convenient? Should we go out of our way to show compassion to all --- whether they are within our circle or beyond it? After all, our hearts are cut out to love. As the young who enjoyed volunteer service prove: it is possible to love even those whom we do not know.