Three friends went mountain climbing one winter. While they were up on the mountain, a severe storm broke out. The three friends were in a hurry to go down the slippery slopes. Unfortunately, one of them slipped and broke his leg. He could not walk. One friend, knowing that taking care of the injured would slow down their travel in the icy storm, suggested that they just leave him behind and move fast. But the second one could not even think of abandoning their injured friend. So, while the first friend hastily took off alone, the other friend lagged behind as he patiently carried his friend on his back. The next day, the two friends saw the lifeless body of their companion lying on the ground. He froze to death. The two moved very slowly but their bodies provided heat for each other and that saved them from the deadly cold weather.
This story illustrates that selfishness can be deadly. On the other hand, helping others could mean more burden and trouble on our part, but in reality, it could as well be our saving grace. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite avoided the wounded man on the road. It is not that they did not care about the victim. They had their reasons. They did not want to be rendered defiled or ritually unclean just in case the victim was already dead. They also were in a hurry because of the dangerous area. They did not want to get into any trouble or to disrupt their busy schedule. In other words, their priority was not the welfare of the other person, but their own safety, their job, and their comfort.
On the other hand, the Samaritan did not care about his own welfare. He approached the victim, brought him to an inn and cared for him, promising that he will return to make sure everything was paid for. He went out of his way to help the man. He did not mind that his journey was delayed or that he incurred unexpected expenses for somebody he did not even know. For him, the other person was as important as himself.
Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan, not to embarrass the Jews who hated Samaritans, but to describe his own mission. In modern corporate parlance, this parable is the “Vision-Mission Statement” of Jesus. Some early Christian writers, like Origen, and the Church Fathers, notably St. Augustine, interpreted the parable in this way:
The traveler represents humanity. We are on constant journey in this world. However, the journey is not towards Jerusalem, the holy city, but towards Jericho, representing the enticements of the world. The robbers are the forces of evil in the world that lead us to sin. The wounds are the marks of our sins. When we are in sin, we are left for dead, stripped of all power and dignity. The priest and the Levite represent the Old Covenant. The priest is the Law; the Levite is the Prophets. They would not do anything to save us. Fortunately, the Son of God, Jesus, through his Incarnation, comes into our troubled world. He is the Good Samaritan. Though rejected by his own people, he is the one who rescues sinful humanity. He heals our wounds; he hoists us on the beast, the image of his own body; and brings us to an inn, the Church, his Mystical Body. The manager of the inn is the visible head of the Church to whom its care has been entrusted. He gives the innkeeper two coins, representing the two great commandments: love of God and love of neighbor. Then he promises to return, indicating that the Savior will come again, his Second Coming.
This is the Vision-Mission of Jesus. In a world full of selfishness, hopelessly fragmented, and painfully agonizing in violence and misery, Jesus envisions a world where people fully obey the will of the Father, transforming it into the Kingdom of God – a kingdom of peace, justice and love. The only way to achieve this vision is love of neighbor – by reaching out to others, getting out of our comfort zones, and being ready to be disturbed by the needs of others. Jesus shows us his own example as the Good Samaritan, the perfect image of true compassion and unconditional love. As followers of Jesus, we are invited to share in his mission: “Go, and do likewise.”
The world is severely afflicted with the sickness called selfishness. It is this sickness that makes people callous, indifferent and insensitive to the plight of their neighbors. Have you ever wondered why tyrants and dictators use the symbol of a clenched fist? A closed hand cannot and does not want to give. It wants everything for itself. But since it is closed, it also cannot receive. We may not admit it, but this is true to so many of us nowadays. We assume the closed fist attitude. We imprison ourselves in our own little worlds, and we do not want anyone to disturb our peace and comfort. We do not want to give, so we close our hands. But in effect, we also cannot receive. In a society of closed hands, life is meaningless – everything comes to a standstill. Nothing comes and nothing goes. This is what makes life ugly and miserable.
That is why sometimes something terrible happens in our world – 9/11, earthquakes, Katrina, oil spill, financial meltdown – not because God punishes us, but because we need something to shake us and wake us up from our unperturbed slumber in complacency and self-sufficiency. We need to realize that we cannot remain unaffected by others. No one can be totally independent and self-sufficient. God created us as complementary and interdependent beings. We need each other. It is only in reaching out to others and in being one with them in their times of need that we discover the beautiful meaning of life. It is then that we begin to live life to the full as God wants for all of us.
When are we going to join Jesus in realizing his vision for the world? When do we begin to take part in his mission? Enough of our selfishness and closed-hand policy. It is time to open our hands and reach out to one another. After all, the hand is more beautiful when it is open. Let the words of Jesus continuously ring in our minds and hearts: “Go, and do likewise.”
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002