Good Samaritanship

Fr. Roger J. Landry delivered this homily at St. Agnes Church in New York, which I’m excerpting:

Jesus gives all of us a point on which to examine our consciences today. To be a Good Samaritan means to behave like Christ and draw close to those who are in need, close enough to become their neighbor. In today’s first reading St. Paul says that as Christians we are to be a “letter of Christ,” “written not in ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets that are hearts of flesh.” We are supposed to be the living commentaries, the breathing elucidations of God’s word. To know what God says, people should be able to readitfrom the way we live. And therefore they’re supposed to be able to read in the letter of our Christian lives how to love God with all we’ve got and how to be Good Samaritans through the love we have concretely have for everyone God has placed in our neighborhood. And so we must ask ourselves: When we see someone in need, do we behave like the priest and the Levite, who, although outwardly religious, pass by on the other side of the road, afraid to get our hands dirty and commit our time to helping someone in dire straits? Or do we draw close and see how we can help, even to the point of sacrifice? Are we willing to be inconvenienced to help others or are we too busy minding our own business to stop and place others and their urgent needs above ourselves and our own desires? Do we look at care for them as merely a reluctant duty or do we run to those in need, the way the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son ran to embrace his repentant son, or the way a mother would run into traffic to care for one of her children whose bicycle had just been struck by a car?

One of the things that Pope Francis has been prophetically exposing is the indifference with which so many people, including Christians, live. So many don’t care when people are starving to death, or losing their lives trying to emigrate, or being gunned down at Sunday Mass in Sri Lanka or Nigeria, or being victimized by violence in Odessa, or El Paso, or Dayton. We might give these things our attention for a little bit, we might say a prayer, we might text in a contribution, but then many of us simply change the channel of our attention. Pope Francis says many are more concerned about a drop of a few points in the stock market than they are about people dying of exposure on the streets. To be a Christian, he stresses, in communion with every Pope back to St. Peter, is to grasp that, unlike Cain, we are our brother’s keeper. To be a Christian does not mean just to know the Catechism or to fulfill our weekly obligation on the Lord’s day or not violate the commandments. To be a Christian is to cross the road to help others as Christ helped us first. To be Christian means to seek to love God with all we’ve got and to love our neighbor with all we’ve got. It’s eschatologically essential for us to grasp this. Jesus tells us that those to whom he will say at the judgment, “Depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,” will not merely be people like Nero, Pol Pot, Hitler, and Stalin, but those who didn’t give food, drink, clothing, care, visits, or welcome to others in need, “for as often as you failed to do it to the least of my brothers and sisters,” Jesus tells us he will say, “you failed to do it to me.” To be a good Samaritan isn’t just “extra credit” on the final exam of life. To be a Good Samaritan is a command: “Go and do likewise.” That’s the way Christ’s kingdom is built up here on earth. That’s the way we inherit eternal life. If we’re not living in God’s kingdom here on earth — and God’s kingdom is a kingdom of Good Samaritans! — then why should we expect to enter into his eternal kingdom?

Whenever we talk about living with this type of charity, however, there are lots of practical questions that arise. We know that none of us can help everyone with every possible need — and that God would never demand of us the impossible. We know that there are con-men and con-women who try to exploit the generosity of others and that therefore to give to them might be catalyzing their sinful deception. We know others are, for example, addicted and may misuse our generosity to harm rather than help themselves. How do we know when to give, to whom to give, and how much to give?

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