Knowing and doing

Patricia Datchuck Sánchez

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It is one thing to know something; it is entirely another thing to act on that knowledge. Indeed, it is a great feat of will to go from knowing to doing. Why?

CEL_July102016.jpgKnowing is safe and requires little or no risk. Knowing is the stuff of committees that can talk endlessly about an issue but never decide to take action. Knowing is comfortable, reasoning and serene. Knowing is full of hope, promises and good intentions -- but knowing will take us nowhere unless we are willing to take the first step, the first attempt toward doing.

Fifteenth Sunday in
Ordinary Time
Deuteronomy 30:10-14
Psalm 19
Colossians 1:15-20
Luke 10:25-37

Doing, on the other hand, reveals who we are and what we stand for. Doing requires courage, strength and intestinal fortitude, because doing can get us into trouble. Doing must be fueled by faith and prayer. In order to be authentic, doing must persevere.

Today's sacred texts show that God is aware of the human struggle to transform knowing into doing. In the passage from Deuteronomy, Moses is featured as speaking for God, imploring the Israelites to take to heart the precepts of the Lord. These you already know, says the Deuteronomist; indeed, God's command is very near. It is already in your mouth and in your hearts. You have only to carry it out.

Today's Gospel features the uniquely Lucan good Samaritan who, along with two others, chanced upon a man lying on the roadside stripped, beaten, robbed and half-dead. A priest and a Levite saw the man and, of course, they knew what had to be done. But knowing did not move them to do it. Both passed by on the opposite side of the road. Would distancing themselves from what they had seen ease their minds and consciences? This we cannot know or judge.

But we can admire and emulate the Samaritan who came upon the scene, saw and knew what was needed, and then allowed compassion to move him to do what he could. His ministrations for a person who perhaps would have shunned him under ordinary circumstances were beyond the ordinary because his compassion moved him to act. He did not hold back.

 What is it that holds us back when we come face to face with human need? Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest, tells of a time when she was preparing a sermon on today's Gospel (The Preaching Life, Cowley Pub., 1993). As she drove to work, she mulled over it in her head. Suddenly, she came upon a car with its hood up along the road. As she approached, a tall black man stepped into the road, holding up a pair of jumper cables, looking her straight in the eye.

Several hundred pieces of information went through her mind in about three seconds: The man needs help ... you are a single woman alone in a car ... the man needs help ... never open your door to a stranger ... go to the nearest service station and send a mechanic ... the man needs help ... what if he cannot afford a mechanic ... the man needs help ... I'm sorry, I cannot help ... maybe the next person will. At that, she drove off to work to complete research on the good Samaritan.

Brown Taylor tells the frustration many of us feel because of the gap between knowing what should be done and doing it, and suggests that after all the arguments are made and all the issues are debated, it comes down to one thing -- just do it! Love God, love neighbor, be a neighbor. If we want the world to be different, to be better, "do some love," says Brown Taylor. "Do a little, do a lot, but do some."

Today's Gospel illustrates the advice of Brown Taylor and brings to life the special mission of the church as shared by Pope Francis in a conversation with Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro (My Door Is Always Open, Bloomsbury, 2013). The church should be like a field hospital after a battle; it should be like a nurse who heals wounds, one at a time. "Samaritan" in its spirituality, the church's is a ministry of mercy that washes, cleans, relieves and heals both body and spirit.

As one who embodied a Samaritan spirituality, Mother Teresa founded a religious community to "do love" among the needy and sick of India. Now, her sisters number 4,500 and are "doing love" in 133 countries. In order to ensure that the community remains true to its spirituality and purpose, the sisters, in addition to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, take a fourth vow of "wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor."

This vow both reflects and affirms the church's preferential option for the poor as first voiced by Fr. Pedro Arrupe in a 1968 letter to his fellow Jesuits. This option was embraced and affirmed by the Latin American bishops and has become integral to the church's mission.

This we know. What shall we do about it?

[Patricia Sánchez holds a master's degree in literature and religion of the Bible from a joint degree program at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York.]

A version of this story appeared in the July 1-14, 2016 print issue under the headline: Knowing and doing.

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