"A Man Went Down From Jerusalem to Jericho"
Among the most powerful, personal, pastoral and
practical parables that Jesus taught is that parable of the Good Samaritan. It
is a parable that is powerful, for it speaks of the power of love that
transcends all creeds and cultures and "creates" a neighbour out of a
complete stranger. It is a parable that is personal, for it describes with
profound simplicity the blossoming of a human relationship that has a personal
touch even physically, transcending social and cultural taboos, as one person
binds the wounds of another. It is a parable that is a pastoral, for it is
replete with the mystery of care and concern that is at the heart of the best in
human culture, as the Good Samaritan reaches out and ministers to his new--found
neighbor who is in dire need of help. It is a parable that is primarily
practical, for it poses a challenge urging us to cross all barriers of culture
and community and to go and do likewise!
Whenever we read and
reflect on this parable of the Good Samaritan, we are moved by the depth of its
simplicity. It speaks to our heart. It can even trouble our conscience. It is a
parable that proves convincingly "that the word of God is something
alive and active: it cuts more incisively than any two-edged sword" (Hebrews
4:12). And similar sentiments stirred within me as I listened to the Hippocratic
Even though the Oath and the Parable stand centuries apart, there is a
bond that links them together for they both express and share a common concern:
a commitment to, I would like to state, "the gospel of life";
a commitment that stems from a profound respect and concern for the human
person. "Every individual, precisely by reason of the mystery of the
Word of God who was made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14), is entrusted to the
maternal care of the Church. Therefore every threat to human dignity and life
must necessary be felt in the Church's very heart; it cannot but affect her at
the core of her faith in the Redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God, and
engage her in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel of life in all the world
and to every creature (cf. Mk 16:15)."  It is precisely this commitment
and concern that will engage our reflection and sharing over the next three days
of this Tenth International Conference organized by the Pontifical Council for
Pastoral Assitance to Health Care Workers. On paging through the agenda of this
Conference, I notice that various speakers have been assigned topics, that will
throw light of, from a diversity of inter-disciplinary dimensions, the phrase "From
Hippocrates to the Good Samaritan". Suffering, the care of the sick;
healing wounds; the doctor, a man for all; medicine and morality; women in the
history of the care of the sick--are some of the themes that will be dwelt on.
On my part, as President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, I propose to
offer a prayerful but practical meditation on the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
man, we are told, was on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. Jerusalem was the
holy city where the Temple was located, where Yahweah had chosen to make His
dwelling place. It was thus a symbol of the divine and the sacred. In contrast,
in Scripture we often find Jericho standing for the world. As Origen put it,
"...the man on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho falling among thieves,
represents Adam driven from paradise into the exile of this world. And when
Jesus went to Jericho and restored the sight of the blind men, they represented
all those who in this world suffer from the blindness of ignorance, to whom the
Son of God comes."  Jericho is in a sense a symbol of secular
culture. And that man who was on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho
represents the whole of humanity, as a matter of fact all of us. Like him, are
we not too on a journey? For are we not all pilgrims travelling together?
Somewhere along the path, we are waylaid and robbed, deprived and stripped of
what is best in us, the spark of the divine and the sacred! Religion, which
expresses our relationship with God, like the sacred, is at the very heart of
culture. And yet as Pope Paul VI has noted: "The split between the
Gospel and culture is without doubt the drama of our time, just as it was of
other times."  What is our response as Church, to this body of
humanity that lies wounded and waylaid? Do we not need to tend it and restore it
to its pristine health and glory? I propose to approach this great story from
three angles. It is a parable that calls for Compassion, challenges us to
Commitment and ends with the joy of Communion.
1. The call to compassion
There is a world of a difference
between mere pity and compassion. Pity begins and ends with self. And even
though it may make us feel for the suffering, it remains self-enclosed for it
does not bear fruit in action. At the most, pity ends with a sign or a mere
shrug of the shoulders. Compassion, on the other hand, urges us to move out of
ourselves. For it makes us not only feel for but feel with those who
suffer. To show compassion, therefore, is to suffer with the wounded and the
suffering, to share their pain and agony. While it is true to say that we can
never fully enter into another's pain and that we more often than not
remain outside as silent spectators to another's agony, compassion helps us in
some small way not only to feel with but to feel in the one who suffers.
This is how Jesus, the Good Samaritan par excellence, showed compassion. He suffered
with and suffered in the persons to whom he ministered. He felt their
hunger, He sensed their sorrow, He understood their pain, He sympathised with
and befriended sinners, He touched the ostracised. Jesus assumed a back that He
might feel the pain of being scourged "for the high priest we have is
not incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us, but has been put to the test in
exactly the same way as ourselves, apart from sin" (Hebrews 4:15).
Centuries before He was born the prophet Isaiah had stated: "Yet ours
were the sufferings he was bearing, ours the sorrows he was carrying...; he was
being wounded for our rebellions, crushed because of our guilt; the punishment
reconciling us fell on him, and we have been healed by his bruises"
Compassion, does not leave us indifferent or insensitive to
another's pain but calls for solidarity with the suffering. Solidarity "is
not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so
many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and
persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that
is to say, to the good of all and of each individual because we are all really
responsible for all."  At times we can be like the priest
and the scribe who, on seeing the wounded man, passed by on the other side. We
can be silent spectators afraid to involve ourselves and soil our hands.
can easily find parallels in contemporary culture. The visual media today bring
right into our homes horrifying scenes of war and violence, of hunger nad want,
of sickness and disease, of natural catastrophes like floods and earthquakes. We
run the risk of being lulled into a culture of watching passively, of doing
nothing. Instead of being actors, we end up by being mere spectators. Compassion
demands that we get out of ourselves as we reach out to others in need.
It makes us emerge from the comfortable cocoon of our self-enclosure and reach
out in love and service to those who need our help.
The concept of health
need not be so narrow as to be restricted to mean mere physical or bodily well
being. In a symbolic sense health takes on a much wider significance. There are
whole societies and cultures "on the other side of the road"
that lie "wounded," waylaid and deprived by the dis-values of
consumerism and materialism, stripped of what is best and most beautiful in
human culture, because they are devoid of, and at times hostile, if not
indifferent, to God. We have been, culturally speaking, so dehumanized as to
have lost the sense of God.
And, over the years, we have gone a step further
by nurturing non-belief, resulting in religious indifference. Indifference is
worse than hostility. The hostile person at least acknowledges the presence of
the other while reacting violently to it; the indifferent person, on the other
hand, ignores the other and treats him as if he did not exist.
That was the
kind of indifference and insensitivity shown by the priest and the Levite who
passed by on the other side, leaving the wounded and waylaid traveller
unattended. It is alive in today's anti-culture of isolation and triviality.
our greatest depravity is that we can lose our sense of God. And with the loss
of the sense of the Fatherhood of God, it must of necessity follow that we lose
also in the process the sense of the brotherhood of man. Even though we may deny
or be indifferent to the existence of God, what fills us with hope and optimism
is that the God of the Christian is a God Who rises from the dead, a God Who
revives and renews, a God Who restores hope as He rises phoenix like from the
ashes. It is precisely to such cultures that have become godless or religiously
indifferent, that have become dormant and dead, that the Church as a
continuation of Jesus Christ, the Good Samaritan in time and space, needs to
reach out and minister and to offer the Good News. These are the very cultures
that silently plead for our active involvement. When the Church, and together
with her the Christian faith, enters into the flesh of culture the mystery of
the incarnation is relived. The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us. He
becomes like unto us in all things but sin. "Without the incarnation
there is no salvation: Christ was not born in a void. He took flesh in the womb
of Mary; His life was interwoven into the prevalent social and cultural fabric
of His time. As the Word of God He spoke in human language, a specific language
with a definite cultural heritage. Cultures have been analogically compared to
the humanity of Christ. By the mystery of the incarnation, He entered into
culture from within purifying it and reorienting it to God Who was to be
worshipped in spirit and in truth."  Just as the Good Samaritan
entered into the situation of the man lying wounded and half dead and ministered
to him, so must the Church enter into these cultures that are wounded and sick
and revitalize them by offering them the Gospel of Life.
2. The challenge to commitment
Commitment is one word that
perhaps best expresses the attitude and action of the Good Samaritan. He could
have, like the priest and the Levite, passed by on the other side. He could have
closed his heart and refused to respond to a genuine need.
But he stopped.
He stopped to stoop. He stooped to conquer. At that very moment when he stopped
and stooped to serve this stranger who had fallen into the hands of bandits, a
neighbor was born. Compassion that is prompted by love is "creative":
it creates a neighbor! "Thus one would be able to speak of a sacrament,
of a sacrament of love: when one person makes available his living being, his
heart and strength and energies, God causes his creative power to enter and
there emerges the miracle of the relationship with the neighbor." 
is indeed a world that is constantly challenged by a growing insensitivity to
suffering. We have grown so accustomed to suffering, sickness, and starvation
that we can pass by the most gruesome sights without so much as batting an
eyelid. We have become so used to seeing soaring skyscrapers provide the
background for stinking slums. Did not the world community watch as silent
spectators when thousands were eliminated in one of the most massive genocides
recorded in history? Life itself has become so dispensable that we have invented
euphemistic expressions to quell the qualms of our conscience. We speak today of
"termination of pregnancy" and "euthanasia"
as if we could delink them from the sacredness of the human person whose death
is being contemplated and executed!
The Church, like the Good Samaritan, is
committed to health and life. What makes the reaching out of the Good Samaritan
even more poignant is the fact that there was no relationship between Jews and
Samaritans. But it is from this reaching out in love that two unrelated persons
now begin to relate in love and a neighbor is born! Is it not love that calls
the neighbor into existence?
The Gospel text from Luke, Chapter 10, simply
speaks of "a man (who) was once on his way down from Jerusalem to
Jericho...." Have we ever stopped to reflect that this man has no name
or nationality, no particular culture or community, no race or religion? He was
just a man. Yes, any man, any person in need. Every person in need is my
neighbor. "Everyone who crosses my path and who needs me, no matter of
what name, race or religion. Let us not waste time trying to know these things;
let us not pass by on the other side. We have to be interested in one thing
alone: that this poor person needs me and his name is Jesus!" 
3. The joy of communion
The world we live in is an ocean of
suffering. I think of the millions suffering physically in Hospitals, Homes for
the Aged, and Terminal Care Clinics. I call to mind little infants too small to
understand the mystery of suffering but already big enough to experience it; I
remember strong young men crying out with unbearable pain; I know of the aged,
so weak and feeble, struggling and gasping for the last few breaths of life. I
think of the mental suffering that so many experience: the loneliness of
separated spouses, the isolation of orphans who have never known the warmth of a
home or the caress of a parent; the agony of the drug addict; the anguish of
those who mourn a departed one; the pain of being alone far away from near and
dear ones. Suffering is indeed our common heritage. Has suffering a meaning?
What is the Christian meaning of suffering? As Paul Claudel has succinctly
stated: "God did not come to take away suffering but to refill it with
his presence." Jesus did not eliminate suffering; He elevated it.
what ought to be our attitude towards those suffering? "The parable of
the Good Samaritan belongs to the Gospel of suffering. For it indicates what the
relationship of each of us must be towards our suffering neighbor. We are not
allowed to "pass by on the other side" indifferently; we must "stop"
beside him. Everyone who stops beside the suffering of another person,
whatever form it may take, is a Good Samaritan. This stopping does not mean
curiosity but availability."  In short, our compassion for the
suffering that makes us committed to action to meet their pain, ends in
communion when every man and woman who suffers becomes my brother or sister.
is strange but true that suffering unites. It brings us closer to those who
suffer and perhaps even closer to ourselves! For when we are laid low and
rendered weak and helpless, we sense more acutely not only our creatureliness
before God, but also our solidarity with the rest of humanity. We might forget
those with whom we have laughed; but we never forget those with whom we have
cried! It is this bond that leads to communion. "There is something of
the clairvoyant in love: a capacity to see through that which lies hidden; to
understand that which is not yet presented; to discern that which is to occur."
 But there is yet another Person with whom we enter into communion every time
we reach out to and serve the sick and the suffering. That Person is none other
than Jesus Christ Himself. In no uncertain terms He Himself tells us: "In
truth I tell you, insofar as you did this to one of the least of these brothers
of mine, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40). We love and serve God as
much or as little as we love and serve our neighbor in need. In the last
analysis, it is love that counts. St. John of the Cross has summed it all up so
beautifully when he says: "At the evening of life, you will be examined
Compassion, Commitment, and Communion summarize the
message of the parable of the Good Samaritan. It is compassion that makes us
feel with and in those who suffer; it is this fellow feeling that leads us to
commit ourselves in love and service to them in their need; it is this
commitment that brings about a communion of love not only with those who suffer,
to whom we minister, but also with God Himself.
I would like to conclude this meditation with a
little anecdote. A rabbi was once instructing his disciples. In the course of
his teaching he asked them: "When does the day begin?" One
"When the sun rises and its soft rays kiss the earth, gilding it with
gold, the day has begun." But this response did not satisfy the rabbi.
Yet another disciple ventured: "When the birds begin to chorus their
lauds and nature herself bounces back to life after the night's slumber, the day
has begun." This reply, too, did not please the rabbi. One after the
other, all the disciples made bold their answers. But with none of them was the
rabbi pleased. Finally, they gave up and all, agitated, asked: "Now,
you tell us the right answer! When does the day begin?" And
the rabbi answered calmly: "When you see a stranger in the dark and
recognize in him your brother, the day has dawned! If you do not recognize in
the stranger your brother or sister, the sun may have risen, the birds may sing,
nature herself may bounce back to life. But it is still night and there is
darkness in your heart!" It is love that gives us eyes to see, a heart
to feel, and hands to help. "The call of the Christian is to share this
(love) generously on the different roads travelled by humanity today, roads that
are new and sometimes dangerous, but always open to people on the move...."
 My earnest prayer this morning, as we begin our deliberations, is that each
of us may be filled with that light of love, that will urge us to move out of
ourselves and reach out to others in need, just as the Good Samaritan did to the
man who was on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho, to this body of humanity that,
on its earthly pilgrimage, lies wounded and waylaid, stripped of what is deepest
in its culture, and infuse into it anew a sense of hope, health, and happiness
impregnating it with the divine and the sacred and thus restoring it to its
pristine glory. In those telling words of St. Irenaeus: "The glory of
God is humanity fully alive and the life of humanity is the vision of God."
 Then will this parable of the Good Samaritan come alive and speak to our
hearts today, for then we shall know who is our neighbor and fulfill the command
of Jesus to that lawyer in the Gospel narrative: "Go, and do the same
yourself." We are invited into something beyond all law, all old law.
We are challenged into the commitment and communion of the new commandment of
Paul CARDINAL Poupard
President, Pontifical Council
1 JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae,
1995, no. 3.
2 ORIGEN Homilies 6,4 quoted in Office
of the Readings for Thursday, Week 10 of the Year.
3 PAUL VI,
Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, 1975, no. 20.
PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 1987, no. 38.
in Cultures... Fruitful in Christ, Office of Education and Student
Chaplaincy, F.A.B.C., Manila, 1995, p. 16.
6 ROMANO GUARDINI,
Volont[[daggerdbl]] e Verit[[daggerdbl]], Morcelliana, 1978, p. 149.
CARDINAL PIRONIO, "Homo Quidam," Dolentium Hominum, 1986, no.
1, p. 8.
8 JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris,
1984, no. 28.
9 ROMANO GUARDINI, op. cit. p. 150.
PAUL POUPARD WITH MICHAEL PAUL GALLAGHER, What Will Give Us Happiness?
Dublin, Veritas, 1992, p. 124.
11 Adversus Haereses IV, 20,7.