Today is the day for the Good Samaritan story – the day
for us to consider “And who is my neighbor?” There are
always two stories in my life that come to mind when I reflect on
this Gospel Reading. The stories are decades old – but, because
they are intertwined with affective memories and ethical conduct,
they always stay with me as strong memories. The robbers’
victim was vulnerable – so, when I think about this Gospel
Reading, I think of situations when individuals are vulnerable.
The first story is that of myself as one of the two story characters
who did not respond to the victim. I had the same negative behaviors
as the priest and the Levite. It was a Sunday morning in the early
1980s. I was on my way to go to my usual Sunday Mass at my parish.
I stopped at a homeless shelter to drop something off. The one Catholic
Worker at that Catholic Worker House practically begged me to stay
and help with the many needs of the homeless that morning. But,
I didn’t. I did not attend to their vulnerability. I met my
needs. I prioritized going to the one Mass at my parish that morning.
I certainly had a multitude of other options, i.e., going to Mass
later in the day at another church, etc. I focused on my meeting
my needs. My behavior was the parallel of “he passed by on
the opposite side.” But, of course, this non-ethical behavior
on my part nagged at my soul almost immediately. It was a one-time
learning experience. Never again in the 25 years since then would
I practice such non-neighborliness.
The second story is that of myself in a vulnerable situation –
like that of the robbers’ victim, i.e., he was vulnerable.
This story is three and one half decades old – but, the memories
are quite sharp because of the anxiety and vulnerability I felt.
I was driving a small red Volkswagon from Nebraska to Alabama to
visit a friend. The car broke down along an interstate highway in
Tennessee. The positive thing is that it happened near an exit to
a small town. It was evening and I attempted to make sleeping arrangements
and have the car towed the next morning. While I called all the
hotels in this town, there were no rooms available as there was
a major festival event in the town. I called the priest at the one
Catholic Church to obtain permission to sleep in a church pew. That
was not possible. Who was the Good Samaritan that night? It came
in the personage of three African-Americans – a couple and
their 8-year old son. Their car (larger than mine) also broke down
in close proximity to mine. The four of us spent the night together
in their car. In retrospect, given race relations in this country,
I marvel at their courage in 1971 in Tennessee to extend such neighborliness
to me, a young Caucasian woman. They lived the Good Samaritan Gospel
There are many other examples in our daily lives when vulnerability
is “on a continuum” and I see others practicing Good
Samaritan behaviors. I saw it on a recent airline flight by a “rooted”
older mature airline stewardess – she recognized the fear
and anxiety in a Central American Indian eight year old’s
face and initiated changing passengers’ seating plan so the
boy could sit with his father. I saw it in the initiative of an
older Hungarian woman oblivious to language barriers and helping
my husband and I take the correct bus last Spring.
I believe there are many times (probably many times daily) when
we are given the opportunity to practice some aspect of Good Samaritan
behavior. Who are the vulnerable in our daily lives? Do we follow
Jesus’s words “Go and do likewise.” ?