15th Sunday Ordinary Time
Year C

He treated him with compassion

Christ's parable of the compassionate "foreigner" from Samaria is so famous that the term "Good Samaritan" has become proverbial.

Joseph Lo Pa-hong of Shanghai was a real-life good Samaritan in the decades before World War II. Unlike the typical Chinese, Joseph was a Catholic, one of a family that had embraced the faith 300 years ago. Unlike the typical Chinese Catholic, he was also a man of means, highly respected in the commercial world of China, and even of Europe, where he had been decorated by the Belgian, French and Italian governments. But however successful he was in business affairs, Lo Pa-hong's principal concern in life was the spread of the gospel and its ideals of charity.

One day in 1912 when this apostolic man was riding in his rickshaw through the city streets, a beggar approached him for alms. Lo saw the man was deathly sick, so he took him into his carriage to transport him to a hospital. But the hospital would not accept him, and the coolie pulling the rickshaw refused to transport him further because it would "harm his business". So Joseph eventually hoisted the pauper on his own shoulders and brought him to his own home where he nursed him as well as he could. Other poor people heard of this and asked him to take them in, too. Lo Pa-hong soon opened a special house for the poor. It was the beginning of a series of charitable institutions - 16 in all - that he called St. Joseph's Hospice. At peak the Hospice had a population of 2000 sick (including ill prison inmates), orphans, abandoned children, etc. Under Joseph's daily supervision, the Hospice performed all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The founder supported it by begging, mostly from his non-Christian business friends.

War, that enemy of Charity, struck China in the 1930's. The Japanese invaders besieged Shanghai. Lo Pa-hong lost much of his wealth in the siege. During the violence that followed, he lost his very life. On July 30, 1937 he set out from the Hospice to get some rice for his poor. Two assassins in the streets, mistaking his purpose, fired at him point-blank. The victim was taken to the hospital, received the last rites and died a few hours later.

Given the opportunity before he died, this saintly Chinese Samaritan would doubtless have forgiven his murderers with all his heart. After all, they had made him a martyr to charity.

-Father Robert F. McNamara

Q432: What does the gospel today mean when it says that the scholar of the law “wished to justify himself” (Luke 10:25-37) in front of Jesus and the audience?

We already know that this scripture “lawyer” (RSV) had a hidden and scheming agenda, because his purpose in speaking was to “test” Jesus – to see if Jesus knew as much as the lawyer knew (or thought he knew) about the Torah and covenant responsibilities. So when Jesus patted him on the back for his response to the counter-question posed by Jesus, the lawyer probably thought selfishly that he had been “upstaged,” forced out of the spotlight.

The lawyer’s selfish motive becomes clear with his next question, “Who is my neighbor?” He would have been thinking along the traditional lines of “only Jews.” Once again Jesus upsets his applecart, forcing the lawyer to re-think his assumptions with the story of the “good” Samaritan. Samaritans were probably hated as much as the occupying Roman army, because they were not “pureblood Jewish” like those in Judea.

This lawyer had made himself the center of his universe. That is the trap that can ensnare anyone today, unless we are on guard. Jesus must be the very center of our lives! If the latter is truly the case, then whenever we encounter an injured person or other situation of need, our very first thought and action will be to reach out immediately and offer help. This is markedly different from the “what’s in it for me” society around us today. It is what separates a real disciple of Christ from those selfish opportunists who call themselves “Christian.”

Jesus’ answers and instructions are always so easy to understand and follow. In a nutshell, what he says to the lawyer is simply “follow the example of the Good Samaritan. Ethnic background or purity of bloodlines is not the issue. Unconditional love for all is the issue.”

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! No message is as strong and repeated as often as the direct command of Jesus to “love one another” (CCC #2822). If we say all the right doctrinal words but do not constantly and faithfully demonstrate “Samaritan love” through our actions, then we are Christian hypocrites (CCC #579).

Q588: Is this Good Samaritan story all about holiness?

I have a friend in New Zealand who likes to say that the story of the Good Samaritan is sort of like the Christmas or Easter stories. We’ve heard them so often that we tend to tune out as they are proclaimed at the ambo on Sundays.

We need to recapture the shock value of the story; we also need to remind ourselves that scripture comes alive when we “become” one of the characters. Who are You in the story? Of course, we always think that we are the Good Samaritan, the one who did it right. But think about that—are we not perhaps more like the lawyer, or the priest, or the Levite, or the injured traveler, or maybe even the donkey? What needs to change in my life?

If we have ever passed up an opportunity to assist someone in need, and we had the wherewithal to do that, then we are like the priest and Levite. They let themselves be restricted by the rule book concerning ritual purity, and a violation (touching a dead or half-dead man) would interfere with that vocation. So the rule book won out over the need for love. Keeping it simple: when is the last time we cooked a casserole or hearty soup for someone indisposed – or have we always passed on by?

The Samaritans were hated by Judeans, remember, and vice-versa. You will not find the word “good” and “Samaritan” in the same sentence in the bible. Yet Good Sam ministered to a hurt traveler, never even asking about his family tree. For you and me, let’s keep it very simple: how many times have we passed up the second collection basket on Sundays, even though it is intended to help those with specific needs? (I won’t ask who became the character of the donkey in the story…one who just plods through life, unthinking, uncaring.)

The truth: the hated Samaritan is Jesus! He comes to help us all, to heal us all, to cure all of us of wounds (both physical and spiritual). He wants you and me to imitate him! [Bonus “pop quiz”: what OT story parallels this NT story of love?]

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The story today is about a holiness taught by Jesus that surpasses the holiness spelled out in the Old Testament. It is only our love of God that evokes our response of love for all other human beings (CCC #2083).

Go and Do Likewise

In the days of Moses the pagans could never know what the gods expected of them.  Life was full of anxiety. If they misunderstood, the gods would show no mercy. Israel was blessed above all nations in having their Bible, the Torah, where everyone from the highest to the lowest could see what God expected of them.  So when the teacher of Torah asked Jesus "What must I do to gain eternal life?" Jesus made him answer his own question. "What do you read in the Torah?"  What do you say every day in the Shema prayer?  "Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart… and your neighbor as yourself."  But who is my neighbor?  Who do I have to love? Who can I hate, or at least ignore?  But Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan doesn't allow for any boundaries to love of neighbor, no lines that we can draw between neighbor and stranger. We are to go and treat our neighbor, any human being in need, the way the Samaritan treated his neighbor.

Lord, set the law of love in my heart and let it inspire my actions.  Teach me to hunger and thirst for what is right. Do not let me look the other way when I see someone wronged or in need.  Enable me to go and do likewise. We look for kindness and understanding in others; may they find your love and care in us.