The Good Samaritan saw the brutally injured man there… half dead on the side of the road… and we hear that he is “moved with compassion at the sight.”
A more literal translation of the Greek, however, would be something more intense, something much more visceral like this:
“The Samaritan’s heart was wrenched open.”
One look is all it took, apparently, and this Samaritan’s heart was ripped wide open. He somehow felt this man’s pain as if it was his own!
But I have to wonder:
Do our hearts still respond like that to the sight of human suffering? Do our hearts still get wrenched open?
I know if I’m being honest, I often run the risk of becoming numb to the sight of so much human suffering.
After all, it’s all around us, and we have access to more information — and therefore, more suffering — than ever before in human history.
We scroll Facebook or check the news for five seconds, and we are bombarded with notification after notification of wars, disease, persecutions, violence, upheaval, confusion… the full brunt of evil and pain in this fallen world.
And almost for the sake of our own sanity, we shake our heads and say: “What a terrible shame. I can’t believe that happened. Just awful” — and then we ……… move on. We say a prayer, offer a decade of the rosary maybe — but at the end of the day, our hearts can’t really afford to be “wrenched open” — ripped wide open — every single time we learn about some other sad situation. It’s just too much.
So what do we supposed to do about this?
Well, I suspect part of the answer is this:
Focus on the suffering person who is right in front of you.
Focus intensely on the suffering that you can help alleviate… the suffering that the Lord is actually asking you to attend to. We can get overwhelmed so easily, but ultimately — you can’t help everyone. You can’t love the whole of humanity in an abstract, distant sort of way.
But you can take care of the one, beat-up person who is right in front of you. The person who has been hurt. Betrayed. Rejected. The one person in your life who needs love and care.
You can be a neighbor right now. Your heart can be wrenched open by at least that one person, and you can make yourself vulnerable and available to that one poor soul.
That’s what the Good Samaritan does in our parable today, right? He focuses all his efforts to love and rehabilitate a single man who fell victim to robbers.
He doesn’t waste any time ranting or railing about the priest and the levite who had the nerve to pass by on the opposite side of the road. He doesn’t blame the system for not paying enough attention to this man in the gutter.
No — he himself decides to step up and act.
His soul has been stabbed by the pain and suffering of another — by the poverty and need of another — and so he jumps into action. He at least helps this one man get well— regardless of who he is or what he has done.
This reminds me of one of my all-time favorite saints: St Jeanne Jugan, the foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor.
As the story goes, one cold winter night, Jeanne Jugan was walking home when she stumbled upon an elderly, blind, sick woman living on the streets with no one in the world to care for her.
This poor woman, like the man in our parable, was avoided and ignored by everyone else who passed by.
But Jeanne didn’t ignore her.
No — Jeanne Jugan’s heart was wrenched open. And out of love, she carried this one, single woman home, climbed up the stairs to her small apartment and placed the woman in her own bed. Jeanne slept in the attic to make room for her new guest. Before long, more and more elderly poor were brought to Jeanne’s little house, and more and more other helpers came to provide care and love for these most vulnerable people.
Thank God, Jeanne Jugan jumped into action! Thank God she was willing to become a a flesh-and-blood neighbor to this one poor, elderly woman!
This is exactly what Jesus has done for us, isn’t it?
He became our flesh-and-blood neighbor.
As Josef Ratzinger, otherwise known as Pope Benedict XVI writes: “God, though so remote from us, has made himself our neighbor in Jesus Christ.”
God has made himself our neighbor!
His heart was wrenched open! And he jumped into action at the sight of our wounds. We were all left half-dead on the side of the road by sin and dysfunction — but the incomprehensible, infinitely “other” God — the One “through whom and for whom all things were created in heaven and on earth, both the visible and invisible” as Saint Paul puts it in our second reading — came to us in our desperate need, saying to each one of us:
“I know your suffering. I see YOU… And I want to be here next to you. Let Me help. Let me pay the price. Whatever it costs, it doesn’t matter. I’m here for YOU.”
This is what the Mystery of the Incarnation is all about.
At Nazareth, God made Himself a most intimate neighbor to the Blessed Virgin Mary. At the Annunciation, Our Lady opened herself up and received the Son of God into her womb…
What an incredible neighbor to have! God Himself — living, growing, and developing inside her! “In Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell,” and yet he was pleased to dwell inside the Blessed Mother.
To make things even more interesting, Pope Benedict XVI says that the word used to describe the Samaritan’s “compassionate care” of the injured man is the same exact word that in Hebrew refers to a mother’s care for the child inside her womb!
What a beautiful image to consider:
To be a true neighbor looks like a mother caring tenderly for her unborn child.
In this time of intense debate and polarization — Have we forgotten this fact? Have we somehow forgotten that a mother is meant to be the most loving, most compassionate and very first true neighbor to the child developing inside her womb?
As our first reading from Deuteronomy put it, this is “not too mysterious and remote for you” — “No, it is something very near too you, already in your mouths and in your hearts. You have only to carry it out.”
As we now prepare to receive Jesus, our true Neighbor, literally in our mouths in the Holy Eucharist, I pray that we all come to more fully appreciate His immense gift to us. Know that His Heart has been wrenched open and pierced for OUR sake — His perfect sacrifice was made for OUR salvation… He pours oil and wine into OUR wounds.
Empowered now by His Resurrection, may each of us be a true, flesh-and-blood neighbor to someone concrete today.