By Abraham Joven
When Jesus gives us the parable of The Good Samaritan, it is in response to a question on the identity of our neighbors: to whom are we responsible?
Christ’s teaching that day is deep and challenging: that we are measured by the love and sacrifice we give to others; that people will know our love through acts of mercy, charity, and compassion.
Further, that love must be turned to all we encounter. It’s a grand ask and only rivaled by Christ’s own sacrifice on the cross at Calvary—standing as the extreme and logical extension of what it means to love one’s neighbor.
I’ve been thinking a lot about The Good Samaritan and our Catholic response to an immigrant community that is suffering due to the changes in enforcement, as well as the rhetoric involved in justifying these actions. What can we say to our brothers and sisters in the pews that feel alone? How can we motivate those among us that are hesitant—or hostile—towards welcoming the strangers among them? The actions on the road to Jericho provide us with an answer.
Be Like a Samaritan
Like the victim at the center of the parable, our immigrant community is suffering. Deportations and detentions have split families, increased the burden for the working poor within the community, and contributed to widespread fear. On this contemporary road to Jericho, our neighbors need our help.
When I think of the Samaritan as the model of our response to our neighbor in need, I am profoundly moved knowing that, among the people referenced (the Samaritan, the Priest, and the Levite), he was the only one to see the whole humanity of the person suffering on the road. The Samaritan claimed this man as brother, cleaned and dressed his wounds, took him to an inn, and left money with the keeper to ensure he remained safe - meaning he saw the person, responded to the immediate need, and even gave more to ensure extended relief. Christ not only hails the compassion of the Samaritan in contrast to the avoidance of the Priest and the Levite, but he holds up the entirety of the response as the standard for our care towards our neighbors.
Obeying the Law vs Justice
I’ve encountered the question of obeying the law when dealing with the undocumented, specifically. How to address someone that has broken a civil law, for some, is an intense struggle. And, again, in the parable, we have a subtle answer.
The Priest and the Levite hurry past the victim on the road. As discussed earlier, it may have been out of fear, but it also may have come out of a desire to follow laws regulating purity as clerics. If the Priest and Levite were headed to temple, and came upon a man so hurt that they presumed him dead, law in Leviticus would have forbade them from participating in rituals if they had touched the man. Christ’s implication by raising the Samaritan’s response as a model is that they should have stopped anyway. Put differently: simple obedience of the law does not equal justice.
Further, I am reminded that both Moses and the Holy Family escaped persecution established as the law of the land by fleeing into Egypt - Moses, himself, being sent alone into a new land as an unaccompanied minor. Were it not for the hospitality and courage of the people in Egypt, neither Moses nor Jesus would have lived to see the age of their public ministries. Christ’s enumeration of what will be our judgement—and the phrase “For I was a stranger and you welcomed me”—in Matthew;25 blazes with fire in its explicit implication: that to welcome the stranger is to welcome Christ.
The Measure of Our Love
The measure of our time on earth will be by the way we loved. And one of Christ’s prime examples of that standard is the Good Samaritan – selfless, generous, wholly concerned with the good of the other. Can we rise to the challenge Christ lays out for us to respond to these times with that same love—here and now—towards our brothers and sisters?
Abraham Joven is the Director of Advocacy and Justice for Immigrants Programs for the Diocese of San Bernardino.