by Will Searcy
This past Sunday, we heard the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). This beautiful teaching is not only inspirational, but is also Jesus’s parable that summarizes God’s law and reveals the key to eternal life. In it, Jesus affirmed the scholar’s statement that loving the Lord, our God, with all our heart, being, strength, and mind, and loving our neighbor as ourselves is what the law requires to inherit eternal life. And when the scholar asks whom his neighbor is, Jesus replies with the parable of the Good Samaritan in which He doesn’t respond with the answer of who is one’s neighbor but with the question of who acted as a neighbor to another. Of course, the person who did so was a member of society that was reviled and thought little of, further demonstrating a point Jesus makes in Matthew 5:43-48 to love all people, even our enemies.
In listening to this beautiful parable and in reading it over again, it struck me how desperately we are in need of neighbors today. With all the wonders we have with our modern technological world, newer inventions such as the internet and social media can serve as distractions or worse, and while they make us connected like never before, they can also socially isolate us so that our only experience of each other is a profile online and some short comments made periodically or frequently (often far too frequently). With human communication largely nonverbal, we are starved for in-person interaction like never before in our history. As Pope Francis has often said, we are yearning for encounter, whether we realize it or not.
I look at my own experience, and I wonder how often I encounter others. Through social media, the internet, and entertainment, I seem to come in contact with many diverse groups with all sorts of opinions and lifestyles ranging from those with which I whole-heartedly agree to those with which I disagree. However, these are often superficial “encounters,” and it is hard to really consider myself a “neighbor” to these people, or at least I often fail to put forth the effort to act as one. And with “likes,” shares, retweets, and even screen time serving as votes, the algorithms increasingly weed out differing opinions until we are being fed what we want to read, whether it is true, authentic, or even representative of reality. In this type of environment, how can we reach our neighbors, especially those different from us? How can we be a neighbor to others?
In church this past Sunday, Father Tom offered a very simple, yet very difficult solution to this conundrum. All it takes to be a neighbor to another is to have compassion for our brothers and sisters, especially if they are being downtrodden, oppressed, or ridiculed, and then have the courage to act.
That second part is the difficulty. The courage to act, to risk everything, even our very lives as the Good Samaritan did, is among the greatest challenges we face as Christians. And it is easy to rationalize our need to act away. Maybe we fear for our safety or that of our family. Maybe we feel there is nothing we can do. And so, we do nothing. And each time we do not muster the courage to act and stand up for what we know is right, we meet the next new neighbor with that much less compassion. If we allow this trend to continue, we may one day find ourselves without a drop of compassion left.
While this may seem extreme, and we may not want to think ourselves capable of such a fall from grace, let’s also not forget the stakes of which Jesus spoke – eternal life – and let’s not allow ourselves to slip into complacency. Jesus shows us how to be a neighbor to each other in the Gospels, and in the parable of the Good Samaritan, He tells how. It is to act with mercy. So, let’s let this be the focus of our daily interactions. Let’s let the compassionate, merciful love of our Lord shine through us in every encounter we have, whether it is a person on the street, in the grocery store, or even on social media. And beyond that, let’s seek out encounter with the people who need our love the most. The truth is that we are all the man laying wounded on the road in one way or another, and we are all called to be the Good Samaritan that comes to his aid. If we refuse that call, then who will answer it?