15th Sunday of the Year Deuteronomy 30:10–14; Colossians 1:15–20; Luke 10:25–37
I passed her by It takes so little to reach out compassionately, as Jesus did, to a hurting brother or sister.
Awoman was standing on a curb, waiting for the light to say WALK so that she could cross the street. Directly across from her on the opposite curb was a girl of about 17. She too was waiting for the light to say WALK so that she could cross the street.
The woman couldn’t help but notice that the girl was crying. In fact, her grief was so great that she made no effort to hide it.
For a moment their eyes met. It was only a fleeting glance, but it was enough for the woman to see the terrible pain that filled the girl’s eyes. Then the girl looked away.
At that moment the light changed. Each stepped off the curb into the street and started across.
As the girl approached, the woman could see that she was quite pretty, except for that terrible grief in her face.
Just as they were about to meet, the woman’s motherly instincts came rushing to the surface. Every part of her wanted to reach out and comfort that girl.
The desire was all the more great because the girl was about the same age as one of her own daughters. But the woman passed her by. She didn’t even greet her. She just passed her by.
Hours later the pain-filled eyes of that girl continued to haunt the woman.
Over and over the woman said to herself, “Why didn’t I turn, fall in step with her, and say, ‘Honey, can I help?’ But I didn’t. I walked on by. Sure, she might have rejected me and thought me a nosey person. But, so what!
“Only a few seconds would have been lost, but those few seconds would have been enough to let her know that someone cared. But, instead, I walked on by. I acted as if she didn’t even exist.’’
That true story illustrates, as few stories can, the point Jesus makes in his beautiful parable in today’s gospel. It is this: It takes so little to reach out compassionately to a hurting brother or sister.
To appreciate Jesus’ parable even better, a little background will help.
The road that provides the setting for Jesus’ parable is not an imaginary one. In fact, it is a very famous road. It was the only one in ancient times that went from Jerusalem to Jericho.
At times it twisted around huge boulders. As a result, the road was a favorite haunt for robbers and outlaws.
At letter from A.D. 171 complains to local authorities about the crime being committed along the road. There are historical records of travelers who paid protection money to local thugs to insure safe passage over the road. It is this infamous road that provided Jesus with the realistic setting for his parable of the good Samaritan.
In the parable, Jesus paints portraits for us of three different people: a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan.
First, the priest. He was probably on his way to Jerusalem to worship in the Temple.
Apparently he thought the bleeding man by the side of the road was dead. This explains why he walked on by.
If a priest touched a dead person, he became ritually unclean and was temporarily banned from the Temple. So the priest chose not to get involved.
Then, there was the Levite. He was something like a modern deacon. It’s not clear why he walked on by.
Perhaps his reason was the same as the priest’s. Or perhaps he feared the man was only pretending to be hurt, and would attack him as he leaned over to help. So the Levite, too, chose not to get involved.
Finally, there was the Samaritan. Making a Samaritan the hero of his parable would have shocked Jesus’ listeners. They shunned Samaritans as renegades who had compromised their faith.
Samaritans were banned from the Temple. Their religious contributions were refused, and their testimony was not accepted in a court of law.
But Jesus knew what he was doing by making a Samaritan the hero of his story. He wanted to teach his Jewish hearers that love knows no boundaries. Love reaches out to anyone in need. It doesn’t walk on by. It stops to help; it gets involved, regardless of who the person is.
And that brings us back to our story of the woman and the weeping girl. It would have been so easy for the woman to reach out and help that girl. As the woman herself said:
“Only a few seconds would have been lost, but those few seconds would have been enough to let her know that someone cared.’’
And, often, just knowing that is all a grief-stricken person really needs. Often what they need is not a great expenditure of our energy, nor a great expenditure of our time, nor a great expenditure of our money. Often all they need is simply a sign that we care.
And so today’s parable invites us to look at our relationships with other people.
It invites us to ask ourselves a simple question: How do we respond to people in need? Do we turn around, fall in step with them, and offer to help? Or do we walk on by, pretending they don’t even exist?
Do we do this, especially, to the members of our own family? It’s a sad fact of life that we sometimes treat needy strangers better than we do our own needy spouses, parents, or children.
Today’s parable does not invite us to go out, risk our lives, and becomes heroes. It invites us to reach out, risk our pride, and become humans. It invites us to ask, “Can I help?’’
And if our offer is rejected? As the woman in the story said, “So what!’’ At least someone knows we cared. At least someone knows we said, “Can I help?’’
Lord, give us eyes to see the pain in other people’s eyes, especially the members of our own family.
Lord, give us ears to hear the cry in other people’s voices, especially those of our own flesh and blood.
Lord, give us compassion to become involved in other people’s needs, especially the needs of our own loved ones.
Lord, give us humility never to walk on by because we fear rejection. Rather, give us the courage to reach out and ask, “Can I help?’’
Series II 15th Sunday of the Year Deuteronomy 30:10–14; Colossians 1:15–20; Luke 10:25–37
The shoeshine boy We’ve got to start living as brothers and sisters.
Bob Greene is a syndicated columnist who has a heart as big as his body. He showed that some time ago, when he shared with his readers a story that a young woman had told him.
One hot summer night she was seated in one of those sidewalk cafesthat restaurants set up for their customers in nice weather.
As the woman sat there, she saw a skinny boy about ten years old. He had a shoeshine kit under his arm and was standing at the edge of the cafe.
The boy was black and poorly dressed. He contrasted sharply with the people in the cafe, who were white and well dressed.
As the young woman studied the boy, she had two conflicting feelings.
First, she felt that it was terribly late at night for a ten-year-old boy to be working. Second, she admired the boy for trying to be a man and earn money by shining shoes. It wasn’t great work, but it was honest work.
Just then she noticed the boy ask a patron if he wanted a shoeshine. The patron shook his head, and the boy walked away.
At that moment, the young woman wished that she weren’t wearing sandals so that she could ask the boy to shine her shoes. She wanted so much to let him know that she supported what he was doing.
Just then a man, who looked like the manager of the cafe, came rushing at the boy. He grabbed the boy and literally threw him, like a bag of garbage, into the street. The boy clung tightly to his shoeshine kit to keep it from flying all over. He also struggled to keep his balance so that he wouldn’t hit the pavement too hard.
When the boy got up, his face was filled with pain. It showed emotions of fear, of anger, and of humiliation.
The young woman’s heart went out to the boy. She told Bob Greene, “I felt so terrible for him. He looked as if he were filled with shame.’’
Two questions tortured the young woman as her heart wept silently for the boy.
First, why did the manager or whoever he was treat the boy so brutally? The boy hadn’t picked anybody’s pocket. He hadn’t stolen anybody’s purse. He hadn’t tried to sell anybody drugs. He had simply tried to be a man and earn a living in an honest way.
Second, the young woman wondered what effect this brutal treatment would have on the boy. Would it change his attitude about work and about people?
Would it snuff out the tiny spark of initiative and hope that flickered in his wounded heart?
The young woman was also shocked that not one patron in the café showed any concern or voiced any disapprovalat what had happened.
The young woman ended her story to Bob Greene by saying:
“I don’t know where that little boy is right now.
But I have a feeling that he’s still carrying around the pain of what happened that night. . . . I just wish I could let him know that somebody saw and that somebody cared.’’
That young woman is not alone. Bob Greene cared. You care. And I care.
And we, too, wish we could tell the boy that we have heard his story, and that we are concerned about what happened that night.
My brothers and sisters, the story of that shoeshine boy puts into modern imagery the ancient parable of the Good Samaritan that Jesus tells in today’s gospel.
It makes the parable come alive in a new way. It gives the teaching of the parable a new clarity and a new urgency. And the teaching of that parable is twofold.
First, Jesus teaches us that Christian love doesn’t know boundaries. Christian love doesn’t distinguish between black and white. It doesn’t distinguish between rich and poor. It doesn’t distinguish between young and old. It doesn’t distinguish between the weak and the powerful.
Second, Jesus teaches us that when we see a distinction made between black and white, rich and poor, young and old, weak and powerful then we cannot sit idly by in some comfortable café and continue sipping cool martinis.
This is what Jesus teaches us in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
This is the message that the Church repeats for us in today’s liturgy.
And so today’s gospel invites us to ask ourselves the same two questions that the parable raises.
First, it invites us to ask ourselves: Do we tend to distinguish between black and white, rich and poor, young and old, the weak and the powerful?
In other words, to what extent do we tend to be like the Levite and the priest in Jesus’ parable? To what extent do we tend to be like the cafe manager in the story of the shoeshine boy?
Second, Jesus’ parable invites us to ask ourselves: Do we tend to sit by idly when we see someone in need or see someone treated badly?
In other words, to what extent do we tend to be like the priest and the Levite who walked on by, who failed to help, who refused to get involved when they saw someone in need?
To what extent do we tend to be like the restaurant patrons who sat idly by, who failed to help, who refused to get involved when they saw the boy treated so badly?
My brothers and sisters, today’s parable does not exhort us to go out, risk our lives, and become heroes. It simply invites us to reach out, risk our comfort, and become involved.
It asks us to take to heart Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. It asks us to take to heart the young woman’s story of the shoeshine boy.
Series III 15th Sunday of the Year Deuteronomy 30:10–14, Colossians 1:24–28, Luke 10:25–37
My neighbor Anybody who needs me is my neighbor.
Ateacher of the Law] asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29
Some years ago, Guideposts magazine carried an article by Sal Lazzarotti. It was entitled “Why Should I Get Involved?”
One day Lazzarotti boarded a subway train. Inside the car, a young man about 18 was holding the center post. Across from him sat a young woman.
At 50th Street the train slowed to a stop. The young woman headed for the door. Suddenly she began hitting the boy and screaming, “You fresh punk!” The astonished boy threw up his arms in defense. In doing so, he must have hit her face, because her mouth began bleeding.
She shouted, “Police! Police!” In panic the boy ran from the car. The girl ran after him, still shouting.
Lazzarotti sat stunned. He had witnessed the whole thing. The boy had done nothing. The girl had falsely accused him.
At that point, Lazzarotti wondered what would happen if the boy got caught.
When Lazzarotti got to his office, he couldn’t get the incident out of his mind. Finally, he picked up the phone and called the nearest precinct.
The boy had been caught and sent downtown to Juvenile Court.
He was told that the boy’s name was Steve and that a lawyer named Fleary would be representing him.
The following Monday, Lazzarotti showed up for the court case. The lawyer briefed him. There was bad news. A few years back the boy had been picked up with some other boys on suspicion of stealing a car, but he had not been charged.
When the judge began questioning the girl, Lazzarotti couldn’t believe the things she was saying.
At that point the judge asked her to be specific, because a witness to the incident was present.
When the girl heard this, she grew nervous, fumbled for words, and began contradicting herself.
The judge stopped and called both lawyers forward. He huddled with them, and they nodded in total agreement. The judge dismissed the case. The girl was apparently sick and needed psychiatric help.
Overwhelmed with gratitude, the boy grasped Lazzarotti’s hand, too choked to speak.
On his way home, Lazzarotti thought to himself, “How close I came not to get involved, thinking, ‘It’s none of my business.’ ”
That story is a beautiful, modern illustration of the point and teaching Jesus sets forth in today’s Gospel.
It answers the question, “Who is my neighbor?” illustrating that anyone who needs our help in a given situation is our neighbor.
To better appreciate the parable of the Good Samaritan, it helps to understand a few things about it.
First, the setting Jesus chose for the parable is an actual road that twists downward through rocky cliffs. This made the road especially vulnerable to bands of outlaws.
A letter from A.D. 171 contains a complaint to authorities about the complete lack of safety along this road.
For example, historical documents record that it was not unusual for travelers to be forced to pay “protection money” to local thugs for safe passage over the road.
Thus, when Jesus chose this setting for his parable, he was talking about the kind of thing that was not an uncommon occurrence on the Jerusalem-to-Jericho road.
Second, the victim Jesus chose for the parable was a merchant who should have known better than to travel alone on this stretch of road.
A meditation on this point has the merchant think to himself:
“It was really stupid of me! I should have waited for the caravan. But I was greedy. I wanted to beat the other merchants to Jericho.”
Third, the fact that Jesus chose a Samaritan to be the hero of the parable is the key to understanding it. Jews regarded Samaritans as heretics. The lack of love between the two groups had its roots in Assyria’s conquest of northern Israel (Samaria) in 722 B.C.
Those who survived the disaster intermarried with the foreigners brought in by Assyrians.
This shocked the Jerusalem Jews. The rift continued to widen with time. In Jesus’ day, Samaritans were banned from the Temple and all synagogues. Their religious contributions were refused, and their testimony in courts was not accepted. Samaritans were also hostile to Jews.For example, they even refused to let Jews pass through their towns. Luke 9:52
Jesus chose a Samaritan as his hero to dramatize the answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?”
My neighbor is not just someone who lives in my neighborhood. My neighbor is anyone who needs my help.
Being a neighbor, therefore, means loving even those who treat you badly. Jesus put it bluntly, saying:
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. . . . Do for others just what you want them to do for you.
“If you love only the people who love you, why should you receive a blessing? Even sinners love those who love them! . . . No! Love your enemies.” Luke 6:27, 31–32, 35
This teaching of Jesus touches on a point we must never lose sight of. It is this:
If we wait around until a person becomes lovable before we love them, we will wait around the rest of our lives. It is precisely in the process of loving them that they become lovable.
“[Your heavenly Father] is good to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:35–36