WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR? Jesus replied to this question in a manner that is most effective.He did not give some abstract, legalistic definition, even though the man who posed the question is a lawyer; rather, he replies with a parable in the form of a story that illustrates in an impressive way a generous act of practical charity shown to a stranger by a Samaritan. He contrasts this manís response with the indifference of two others, a Jewish priest and a levite. He then has the lawyer who asks the question answers it himself. As he does so, he draws the obvious conclusion: a neighbor is defined by the compassionate dispositions of his heart, not by proximity of place, nationality, or religion. In approving of this response our Lord found a way of including all of us, and all his followers through the ages, in his command to imitate the Samaritan of his parable. He enjoins us as well as the lawyer who questioned him, to consider anyone we encounter in need to deserve our compassionate care.


The story of the Good Samaritan presents a scene taken from life that depicts a kind of event that is mirrored in any number of other situations that each of us encounters at times. This story is not only about encounters with victims of robbers when traveling. Its lesson concerns the dispositions that Jesusí followers are to cultivate so that whenever we encounter some one in need we show compassion in an effective way, as circumstances allow and our means permit. That Catholics have in fact understood this teaching along these lines is, among other examples, demonstrated by the fact that at present, in our country alone, there are 600 Catholic hospitals. It would be interesting to learn how many are named after this parable of our Lord. I recently received notice of the death of a medical classmate that states that for thirty years or so he served on the staff of Good Samaritan hospital, one of the largest in Cincinnati.


Like so many of our Lordís teachings, this story of the good Samaritan has a more hidden, deeper level of meaning accessible only to those whose faith and attachment to him leads them to seek to penetrate to the heart of his words. This story is a tale about his own self and about each of us and our state of helpless need that in his Incarnation the Lord alone supplies for, out of compassion. For, as Saint Ambrose taught, following in the path Origen had earlier marked out, Jesus is the Good Samaritan who descends to Jericho, a symbol of this world, from the heights of heaven. All the descendents of Adam, having been robbed of our innocence by yielding to sin, lie helpless. He pours the oil and wine of his sacraments on our wounds in compassion. After passing the night caring for the wounded man, Jesus departs on the next day, the day of his resurrection, not without promising to return and requite the innkeeper for his services.


Our Lordís answer to the lawyer who put him to the test, when reflected upon, conveys more than moral instruction on the value of compassion, as important as that is. At a deeper level, his parable of the Good Samaritan is a self-revelation. With this story, our Lord gives a subtle hint that only those can recognize him who have a heart well disposed by faith in his ministry of compassion and healing of the badly wounded children of Adam. What he tells us today as we listen to his words and reflect with faith on his life, is that he has made himself neighbor to each of us, by virtue of his compassion. He remains even now at the service of our need, and as a pledge of his loving mercy he invites us to share at this altar in the new life he has obtained for us through his resurrection. &

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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