This Sunday's Gospel is all too familiar to us. And yet, we must be careful not to confuse familiarity with presumptive knowledge. The parable of the Good Samaritan continues to challenge even the most righteous of the faithful as we come to deepen our own intimate knowledge, experience and trust in Jesus and Jesus' invitation to love.
Besides Jesus' clear invitation to exercise mercy to our neighbors, his new covenant unravels the superficiality of the ancient world's obsession with purity laws specifically and the exercise and enforcement of law in general. His message was so clear that it almost seemed unrealistic. Just take care of others? Really? That's it? But what do we do with this tradition of rules we have created?
Following Jesus and following the rules of the church may not always align.
Let us recall that Samaritans were looked down on by the Jews during Jesus' time because they intermarried with their Assyrian captors when Israel was divided into two kingdoms. Jesus' audience would have been surprised with his decision to name a "good" Samaritan. Unlike the remnant Jews of the southern kingdom who survived Babylonian captivity and were later permitted to rebuild Jerusalem in order to re-establish a new nation, the Samaritans prayed to both the God of Israel, practiced idolatry and got used to their new way of life. The Jews of the southern kingdom were seen as more pure and wanted to conserve their national identity as God's chosen people.
Samaria was also known as the place of refuge for many criminals, outlaws, and those who had been excommunicated from Judea. This reality only deepened the Israelites' contempt for Samaritans. Prejudice and acts of racism followed as tensions grew between these two ethnic groups.
We are reminded that the Good Samaritan took time out of his day, his journey, his work to make his fallen neighbor's needs his priorities. This true act of solidarity by the very person shunned, despised, and not considered as a full person with a pure Jewish experience becomes the very example of mercy, faith and love in Jesus' parable.
Although this parable was directed to the scholar of the law and other Jews, I wonder if the Samaritans would have taken offense to the chronicling and titling of this parable. After all, does not the very identification of "good" Samaritan suggest that most are not?
I am reminded of a student's observation that one of the most racist slurs he hears is, "You're so smart for a Black man."
From the perspective of the Samaritan, what would this parable be called? Maybe it is time for us to re-name this parable: "Love is a decision."
Love is continually acting mercifully at the expense of your own safety and resources. Love brings healing and restoration to a situation, not more rules and more laws. Love dignifies and humanizes. Love is when judgment and consequences are suspended to allow God's grace that brings comfort, ease, inspiration, hope, peace to permeate through the nonsense of fear and contempt. Acts of love help us to see clearly who we really are and who God calls us to become for the sake of the world.
In the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando just a few weeks ago, Theologian Lisa Fullam chronicles the church's stances and responses to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people within and outside of the Catholic community. She identifies a minority group condemned by Catholic dogmatic and pastoral schizophrenia. Jesuit Fr. Jim Martin, editor-at-large of America magazine, joins the conversation and creates a space to re-imagine what Jesus would do in a recent blog. He invites people who have felt marginalized by the church to be consoled in the fact that Jesus goes there ... to the margins to express his love, concern and presence.
Both are good attempts to reach out, but I cannot help but wonder, if lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were to write their own message of love, what would it sound like? Who would it be addressed to? What would it say?
Would a gay Catholic teen reach out to members of the Westboro Baptist Church (or really, a hate group) to offer care and consolation during a time of disgruntled attacks directed at their beliefs? Would a gay couple seek to challenge the Catholic stance on marriage and reserve a church and demand a rite be written?
And what would Jesus do? Would he encourage those on the margins to be aligned with the church or simply hang out with him and be loved?
In the midst of this deficiency, I turn to both Pope Francis and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for direction. In a recent statement, Pope Francis clearly states that the church should apologize to gay people for having offended them.
Pope Francis' response continues to offer me the most truth. He places himself, not in Jesus's sandals, but in the sinner's. He demonstrates empathy when he states, "... I must ask for forgiveness." Like Francis, I, too, ask for forgiveness: from those I judge, from those I marginalize, from those I push aside and choose not to value. Please forgive me.
King so eloquently summarizes what is necessary for the common good in a sermon he titled, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence:"
On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
Let us push out to the margins, include those on the outskirts of human regulated decency in order for us to widen the circle of compassion and love. When we do this, we are deciding to love. When we decide to love, people's wounds are bound and they are brought to full restoration to Jesus who, in turn, offers them encouragement, love and a path towards eternal life.
[Jocelyn A. Sideco is a retreat leader, spiritual director and innovative minister who specializes in mission-centered ministry. She teaches bioethics, feminist theology, Christian sexuality, and Christian Scriptures at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif. Visit her online ecumenical ministry, In Good Company, at contemplativecompanions.org. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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