He makes good our losses
How can the Samaritan teach us about being true to our own nature? Peter Gallagher SJ reflects on charity, our potential, and the abounding grace of God.
On my way back I will make good any extra expenses you may incur (Luke 10.35). The good Samaritan’s generous and trusting farewell to the innkeeper mirrors God’s goodness and his confidence in us. God, who has already been very generous to us, acknowledges the difficulties we have in doing what he asks of us. He assures us of his help. His grace abounds. He will make good our losses. He will rectify our mistakes.
The goodness within our reach
God helps us keep the commandments. He has made us with them written in our hearts. We have been created as persons capable of loving God and of loving others and of doing both these things wholeheartedly. Moses tells us to embrace the law of God because it is within our reach (Deuteronomy 30.11) to do what it requires. We are capable of keeping God’s law. We have in us what is necessary for goodness including the humility to ask for divine help and the responsiveness to cooperate with grace.
Obedience to God’s will is within our possibilities but it is also very difficult for most of us. We are on our way to the heavenly Jerusalem. The city of God is our undoubted goal. Will we achieve what we have set out to do? We have our troubles. We fall among brigands. Selfishness attacks us and overcomes us. We lose, or seem to lose, the resources which God has provided for our journey towards him. On our pilgrimage the evil one attacks us, takes everything from us and leaves us for dead. However. Jesus, like the good Samaritan, comes along and has compassion on our plight. He cares for us. He sets us on our feet. He allows us to convalesce spiritually. He concedes that the cost to us of keeping the law of love is high. He makes arrangements to support us. He promises return to help us to do what we want to do even better. This is the Jesus in whom, as Colossians puts it, God wanted all perfection to be found (Colossians 1.18). Jesus helps us with divine grace. With his gracious help, everything remains within our reach, even after the most catastrophic set-backs.
Learning to be true to one’s own nature
The Gospel tells of the priest and the Levite who did nothing for the injured traveller. They passed by without helping. They continued on their own journey. Alongside all the shameful neglect of a person in great need of which they are guilty there is also in them a deplorable lack of self-respect. They did not do what they had it in themselves to do. They made no use of the power they had to alleviate the trouble of the man who fell among brigands on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. The Samaritan taught them a lesson not only in charity and care but also in being true to one’s own nature. His kindness saved the day for the victim of the attack. The same charity vindicated the Samaritan himself. Prejudiced people might have thought someone like him incapable of virtue. He was from the wrong place. Religiously he was mistaken. Excluded from decent society, what could he do? Jesus is just like the Samaritan. Humiliated, crucified and buried, the Lord does not, at first, seem a likely source of strength. Yet our suffering Saviour helps us best.
The hurry of the religious officials, the Levite and the priest, to get back to their religious duties was a mistake. They were quite wrong to suppose that their spiritual tasks exempted them from their duty to the victim of the brigands. Sometimes we know we ought to get to our prayers: we must not be deflected for too long from this high goal. The first commandment is to love the one true God. We must worship and praise him. However, our charitable service is not a neglect of worship. Our stopping to help one who is in trouble is no neglect of our duty to God.
God wants us to stop to help. He encourages us to discover the needs of others as we go to our prayers and as we emerge from them. God has placed within us the capacity to alleviate the suffering of others. The divine grace which Jesus provides in such abundance enables in all of us the exercise of our responsibilities to others. Within our reach is both prayer and service.
We can stop to help
The law of God is written in our hearts. Our love of God and neighbour are demonstrated by acts of charity. Jesus is himself the model for our being like the loving God. When our strength falters, he helps us with grace and compassion. The strong love of God is shared with us by his Son. Our creator has made us with the spiritual ambition which we possess. Our hope that, providentially, God will return to satisfy our desire for him generates in us a Christ-like trust in the Father. Upon his return the Lord will restore all losses and vindicate all justice. In the meantime, focused as we are on the highest priorities, we can stop to help. The Holy Spirit and the whole providence of divine grace bring us to a holiness which is both focused-on-God and practically charitable. This grace makes good any extra expenses which we may incur. We strive to be what we have been called to be. As part of that conversion, we are enabled to do what the present emergency, whatever it is, requires of us.
Peter Gallagher SJ