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"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 Oath.
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)." [1] 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.
The 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." [2] 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." [3] 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" (Isaiah 53:4-5).
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." [4] 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.
We 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.
But 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." [5] 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." [6]
Ours 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!" [7]

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.
And 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." [8] 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.
It 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." [9] 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 in love."
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 answered: "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...." [10] 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." [11] 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 Christ.

Paul CARDINAL Poupard
President, Pontifical Council for Culture

 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.
 4 JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 1987, no. 38.
 5 Rooted 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.
 7 EDWARD 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.
10 CARDINAL PAUL POUPARD WITH MICHAEL PAUL GALLAGHER, What Will Give Us Happiness? Dublin, Veritas, 1992, p. 124.
11 Adversus Haereses IV, 20,7.