ENTERTAING ANGELS – RE-THINKING THE GOOD SAMARITAN

We come again to Jesus’ parable of The Good Samaritan, acknowledging it applies to far more than whether we offer a handout to a beggar on the street. As far as that is concerned, we know we can’t always, but sometimes, we must.  As Pope Francis reminds us, charity must be without judgment, without lectures or reprimands but a surrender to the Holy Spirit—unqualified as it may be quantified.  But we mustn’t settle with only one application of this Gospel.  Our times call for expansion of our faith as it applies to all aspects of our lives.

Some say politics and religion must never interact, but the parable of the Good Samaritan insists we attend to our current immigration crisis–the refugee camps and holding cells for immigrants from Central America and elsewhere.   Witness’ statements are alarmingly conflicted. Some literally weep over the suffering—people in confinement without access to toilets and shower facilities– and others report that all is well, that everyone is treated humanely.  We don’t know truly who to believe. But our faith insists we attend to the side of those who suffer and not look the other way.

Some say charity has no place in government. Charity belongs to the realm of churches synagogues, temples and mosques.  But wait!  We believe in a government by the people for the people, do we not?  If our government does not respond to people in crisis in ways we believe are good, then who is our government representing?

Even if you believe that every undocumented immigrant must return to his or her own country—a stance that the United States Catholic Bishops insist is not fair or compassionate because of the many hostile situations most of the immigrants are fleeing—the very essence of human kindness insists that we treat fellow human beings with dignity, provide them with at least the most basic comforts while we assess their situations before sending them back to their countries of origin.

Furthermore, charity requires we analyze our government and our American Corporation involvement in these countries to see where we help or hinder the local populations. These are just some of the applications the Good Samaritan Parable insists we consider.  Let’s take a brief look at human history and see what insights our pasts offer. 

Kindness to strangers has always been an essentially human value. Indeed, we find it in evidence in ancient documents that predate the Bible.  As the civilizations of Samaria, Mesopotamia and Egypt were being cultivated, most of humanity lived as foragers and wandering nomads with herds of sheep and goats. When they came upon the outskirts of cites, it was customary for citizens to offer them food and rest before they moved onward.  Our Jewish ancestors insisted this practice was divinely inspired and made it an outright obligation. Consider these examples:

  1. Abraham and the Three visitors. Without hesitation, Abram asks his wife Sarai to make a meal. Had they not, the promise of Covenant, children and future would not have cone to them.
  2. Esau forgives and welcomes back his brother Jacob / now named Israel  with Israel’s wives, children, other relatives and many servants and flocks even though Israel had been gone over 14 years.
  3. Joseph, advisor to Pharaoh welcomes All 11 brothers, father and all the Israelites to Egypt when Canaan was plagued with drought and famine.
  4. Moses guides the people to welcome aliens in their midst for the people were once aliens themselves.

In the Greek and Roman empires, hospitality to strangers was a lawful and religious act.  They believed any of the gods or goddesses could be a beggar in disguise.  Christianity affirmed that attributing the invitation to kindness as consorting with angels.  We read this in Chapter 13 of  the Letter to the Hebrews:  “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment, and of the ill-treated as of yourselves, for you also are in the body.”

Another important aspect of the Good Samaritan Parable is the context of religious fundamentalism, rigidity and scrupulosity in living out the faith. We cannot ignore the fact that Jesus highlights the people unresponsive to the robbers’ victim are religious clerics. Here is an alarming example of legalism trumping a deeper, more universal humanity.  We all know the priest and Levite are following “the letter of the law,”  they cannot be contaminated by the victim’s blood nor by someone who may a member of their clan or tribe if they are to serve at worship at the temple or synagogue. Jesus’ parable questions such allegiance.

We must admit that Catholicism has also had  a reputation, in our past and somewhat in our present, for rigidity in practice and scrupulosity in spirit; in brief:  Legalism. The Good Samaritan Parable reminds us that people can avoid compassion, neglect charity as much BECAUSE of, if not despite our religion.

In the decades prior to Vatican II,  there’s a story of a woman who neglected her toddler – keeping him alone at home in playpen– so she could get to church and not incur mortal sin. Today she would be arrested.  I also know of a band of brothers who cheated a brother out of shares in their business justifying themselves because he no longer was a practicing Catholic.  Hypocrisy for sure.

We used to not be able to attend weddings in Protestant churches or go to church or synagogue with people of other faiths, but today, Holy Spirit has won out just as Jesus broke through the rigidity of religious practices of his time.  Vatican II institutionalized what Catholics sensed and recognized long before, that God is all in all, and that we need to respect faith in all its many forms within and among our families’ relatives in the wider neighborhoods. Such rigidity in rules were always meant to be broken and come of age.

Still, rigidity and legalisms can still hold sway even in our times. There are those who continue to  come to confession, saying, “Forgive me, father, for I have sinned.  I missed mass on Sunday, but I was terribly sick with flu.”   Confessors assure them that God cares about their health and wellbeing and they made the right decision not to attend–for themselves and for the rest of us.  What makes people still so overly concerned with the Church’s  rules and guidelines?  Must they live in fear of mortal of a wrathful, vengeful God?  That is not the God of Jesus Christ.

A more common question I get concerns whether Catholics should attend a wedding if their children or relatives are marrying outside the church – out in a field or by a swimming pool.  In more serious and much more complicated situations they ask the same about LGBTQ  relatives and friends. Here we must remember the many, many stories of Jesus in the homes of tax collectors and people of ill repute. He never insists that they follow him , but rather gets to know them, affirm their God-given dignity, their loving and life-affirming qualities, always highlighting the good He saw in them at the same time He invites them to a relationship. A Good Samaritan would always celebrate our common humanity by putting love over judgment.  Should you go to these weddings, these homes?  Our answer is irrefutable YES!  Remember:  God says, “judgment is mine,”  and Jesus said many times in many ways, “ be merciful just as your father is also merciful.”

Now that we have reflected on the Word, we are all invited to the Eucharistic table. I assure you, on behalf of Jesus and His Church, I am not going to ask you for your green cards, your passports, your politics or anything else other than your “Amen,” i.e. your assent that Christ is with us, in us, in me and you and all, at work in us, conforming us with patience and unconditional love to break through the barriers of yes,  even law and order,  to acknowledge our common humanity–a humanity which He assumed fully and completely for our sake—to make Good Samaritans of us all.  

FOR SCRIPTURE READINGS FOR TODAY, THE FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, GO TO: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071419.cfm

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