I was just praying over the readings for Monday, October 3, 2011 (Monday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time). The gospel is the familiar story of the Good Samaritan. A man had been robbed and beaten and left along the road. First, a priest passes him by without helping and then a Levite does the same. Then, a Samaritan stopped and helped the victim and even paid for the man’s lodgings while he healed. The priest and Levite were supposed to be the servants of the Lord but they did not stop to help the man in need. It is the Samaritan (all Samaritans were despised by the Jews) that helped the way as Jesus would.
Whenever I read this story, it strikes a nerve in me. I believe very much in helping and advocating for those who are truly in need (see the Social Justice section of my website). I served on the Board of Directors of Catholic Charities of Chemung-Schuyler Counties for almost two years and currently serve on the Board of Directors of Providence Housing, a division of Catholic Charities in the diocese. I have part of panel of speakers, presenting the Catholic Social Teaching position on healthcare and water use. For the last two years I served in Elmira I ran the parish social ministry activities. I give generously to charities.
Yet with all that whenever I read the story of the Good Samaritan I am reminded of a day in Washington, DC when I wonder if I did the right thing. I was in seminary and had just started my daily walk. As I walked there was a man sleeping on the sidewalk. I saw a couple of other people walk past without stopping. Now, in Washington, DC it is not uncommon in some areas to see homeless people sleeping on park benches in some areas but this man was laying in the middle of the sidewalk. Did he need help? I’m not happy to say it but you can get used to avoid people who say they are in need. I have had people stop and tell me their “story.” You can find holes in their stories and wonder if anything they are saying is true.
I wondered if the man on the sidewalk was just sleeping or did he collapse and was in need of medical help. As I walked past, I did look to make sure he was breathing and no visible signs of injury or beating. As long as I saw no injury and was breathing I went past without stopping. Now, there are other people who have approached me individually that I have helped. But the one that always comes to mind when I read the story of the Good Samaritan is the man on the sidewalk who I didn’t help. Some say you can’t help everyone and individually maybe we can’t but each time I read the story of the Good Samaritan I wonder if I was supposed to be the one to stop and help that man?
Is there someone in your past that you didn’t help? In the future, when you encounter someone who might be in need, ask Jesus what you are supposed to do.