Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Fifteenth Sunday: The Good Samaritan Next Door
The three ladies had been friends since high school. They all grew up in the same Church and were pretty active as Teens. Eleanor married Fred and had three children, one was still in college, the other two were on their own. Sally married Tom. Their two were in high school. Phyllis married Sam. They had two in college and one in the service. Eleanor and Fred, Sally and Tom, and Phyllis and Sam; they remained friends....to a degree. Time and children kept them busy. Sally and Tom, particularly, weren’t around all that much. The other two couples remained very close. All three families went to the same Church, but Sally and her family were not as involved as Eleanor’s and Phyllis’. Sally never had the time. Eleanor and Phyllis were concerned. They wondered if she and her family were even coming to Mass regularly. They didn’t want to confront her, but they did pray for her and Tom to return to a more fervent practice of the faith.
And then Fred, Eleanor’s husband, became ill. He came home from work, got out of his car, and passed out. It was a brain tumor. The doctors said that it was inoperable. The only hope was chemotherapy, but the chances of that working were slim. Naturally, all of their friends were concerned, including Phyllis and Sam, Sally and Tom. But as the months wore on, Eleanor noticed something. Because she had to stay home with Fred, she saw less and less of Phyllis. And she never saw Sam anymore. But Sally and Tom were always there in her home. Tom made it a point to stop by every evening and jaw with Fred, maybe watch some sports together, just be buds. Sally was always showing up when Eleanor needed her, even when she didn’t ask her to come by. When hospice said that they would send in a respite care volunteer, Eleanor thanked them but replied that her friends Sally and Tom made sure she had a break every day. A passing thought came to Eleanor that she wished she could have said the same about Phyllis and Sam.
The sickness ran its course, and Fred passed away. After the funeral, after the first months of intense grief, Eleanor started thinking about what she had experienced with her friends. It was then that she started praying for Phyllis and Sam’s conversion.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is a parable of living the Law of the Lord. That is how the parable begins. That is what the scholar of the Law asked Jesus to comment on. First he asked him what he had to do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus asked him what the Law said, the scholar quoted Deuteronomy and Leviticus, “Love the Lord with your whole heart, and being, and strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” The parable comes after the scholar asked who was a neighbor.
We all know the parable very well, perhaps too well. We know it so well that we forget that it is pointed towards us. The parable is about living the Way of Jesus, the Law of Love. The Samaritan’s were seen by the Jews as outside of the Law. They had intermarried with pagans. Their practice of the Jewish faith was not as pure as the Jews. They didn’t travel to Jerusalem for the festivals, believing that they could worship God in other places. To the Jews, Samaritans were sinners because they were not as fervent in their faith as the Jews were. The Jews were like Eleanor and Fred, and Phyllis and Tom, who were all certain that they were following the Way of the Lord. The Samaritans were like Sally and Tom, who did not appear as fervent.
The Good Samaritan knew when God called him into action. He knew that he could not be a follower of the Lord and walk by that man who needed his help. Sure the Levite and the Temple priest should have gone into action. Supposedly, they were the strong followers of God. But that wasn’t an argument for the Samaritan to ignore the man on the side of the road. He did what the Law of God demanded that he do. And sure Sally and Tom could have said that Eleanor’s other, fervent friends, particularly Phyllis and Sam, should be changing their lives to help care for Fred, but that wasn’t an argument for their not fulfilling what the Law of Love was demanding of them.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is real in our lives. It is present whenever we are confronted with demands on our time and resources to care for someone who needs us. It is particularly present whenever we are tempted to hide behind worship as a justification for refusing to answer the call to charity. “I am really busy at Church,” we say, “God certainly doesn’t expect more of me.” But He does.
In Jeremiah 31:33 we hear the prophesy, “My law will be written upon their hearts.” We know when we are being called to fulfill the Law of the Lord. We know that Jesus identifies with those who are hurting. There is no excuse, no justification, for our walking by those who need our help, who need His Love.
Your son, your daughter needs extra time. He or she is going through a challenging time, perhaps even a time of crisis. You are emotionally sapped when you try to point him or her in the right direction. But you go to Church. You’ve been good parents. So why should you have to keep parenting even when the children should be old enough to know what they should do? And so, you walk by the one on the side of the road, the one who actually lived or even lives in your own house.
Or perhaps on the opposite side, you feel you didn’t do all you should have done to instill the faith in your children. You didn’t put up as much of a fight as you should have when children announced that since they were confirmed, they wouldn’t be going to Church anymore. You could have done better in other areas of instilling the faith, but you didn’t. Still, when your children need you, even when they don’t realize their need, they can always count on your support, encouragement and love. Maybe most of us here have been Good Samaritans, yes we could have been better at fulfilling prescripts, but we have actively practiced what is at the heart of the Law, Christian love.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is far more than a pleasant biblical story told by Jesus Himself. The parable is an answer to the question: What must I do to inherit eternal life?
We have only to look into our hearts. We know what we must do.