Always remember to love your neighbor; always prefer the one who tries your patience, who test your virtue, because with her you can always merit: suffering is Love; the Law is Love. - Blessed Mary of Jesus Crucified "The Little Arab"
(Gospel text: Luke 10:25-37)
There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test Jesus and said, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read it?" He said in reply, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." He replied to him, "You have answered correctly; do this and you will live." But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn, and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, 'Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.' Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers' victim?" He answered, "The one who treated him with mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
So, what does this exchange between the scholar and Jesus say to us?
Most of us, I would guess, find it easy to apply this example to analogous circumstances in contemporary life: helping the stranger who has just taken a fall near-by. Or stopping to see if a motorist—with car hood up, stalled by the side of the road—needs some help, at least the use of our cell phone or a lift to the next gas station or car repair shop. Those are the easy applications. But the implication of Jesus’ story is—Help anyone you are in a position to help. If I live in a democracy, my neighbor is anyone with whom I am connected by way of the network of city, state, and nation. But when I look at neighbor that way, I feel like the scholar who feels the need for a narrower definition. But wait! Meeting everyone’s need—isn’t that exactly the meaning of “the common good”? And isn’t that precisely what politics and government are supposed to be all about? This is exactly what our Church teaches, in words conveniently summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (in paragraphs 1906-12, to be precise; I looked it up).
The whole purpose of government is to be a way of addressing the common good, the collective good of the community, which we are not able to deal with adequately through individual initiative. Further, to ensure that we address the whole of the common good, our Church has employed the principle called the preferential option for the poor. The name comes from the Latin American bishops as they met in Puebla in the 1970s. But the principle is as old as the Mosaic laws about paying special attention to widows and orphans. The new name has caught on, even with our recent popes. The preferential option for the poor means paying special attention to the effect of any public policy on our weakest members (i.e. the unborn, who truly are the poorest of the poor). Doing that is the only sure way to make sure that no one is left out.
If the parable of the Prodigal Son is the best known short story in the world. Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan may be the most challenging short story.
It is a powerful way of saying in story form what Jesus taught on the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6) when he says, “Be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate.” To imitate Christ’s actions takes more than effort; it is a gift, which requires continuous prayer and the sacraments to nurture.
We need that compassion to serve the universal common good and to make an ongoing option for the poor—not only in our private lives but in our public lives as well, on the level of our national and worldwide citizenship.