The address Pope Francis gave during this morning’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
Today we reflect on the parable of the Good Samaritan (cf. Luke 10:25-37). A Doctor of the Law puts Jesus to the test with this question: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 25). Jesus asks him to give the answer himself, and he gives it perfectly: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind: and your neighbor as yourself” (v. 27). Then Jesus concludes: “do this, and you will live” (v. 28).
Then that man poses another question, which becomes very valuable for us: “who is my neighbor?” (v. 29), and he infers: “my parents? My fellow countrymen? Those of my religion? …” In sum, he wants a clear rule that enables him to classify others in “neighbor” and “non-neighbor,” in those who can become neighbors and those who cannot become neighbors.
And Jesus answers with a parable, placing at the scene a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. The first two are figures linked to the worship of the Temple; the third is a schismatic Jew, considered as a foreigner, pagan and impure, namely the Samaritan. On the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, the priest and the Levite come across a dying man, that brigands had assaulted, robbed and abandoned. In similar situations, the Lord’s Law foresaw the obligation to help him, but both passed beyond without stopping. They were in a hurry … The priest perhaps looked at his watch and said: “But I’ll be late for Mass … I must say the Mass.” The other one said: “But, I don’t know if the Law allows me, because there is blood there and I will be impure …” They go on another way and do not approach him.
And here the parable offers us a first teaching: it is not automatic that one who frequents God’s house and knows His mercy is able to love his neighbor. It is not automatic! One can know the whole Bible, one can know all the liturgical rubrics, one can know all the theology, but from knowing, loving is not automatic: loving has another way, intelligence is needed but also something more … The priest and the Levite saw, but ignored; looked but did not provide. Yet true worship does not exist if it is not translated into service to one’s neighbor. Let us never forget it: in the face of the suffering of so many people destroyed by hunger, by violence and by injustices, we cannot remain spectators. What does it mean to ignore man’s suffering? It means to ignore God! If I do not approach that man, or that woman, that child, that elderly man or elderly woman that is suffering, I do not come close to God.
But let us come to the center of the parable: the Samaritan, that is, in fact, the one who was scorned, the one on whom no one would have wagered anything and who, nevertheless, also had his commitments and his things to do — when he saw the wounded man, he did not pass beyond like the other two, who were linked to the Temple, but “he had compassion” (v. 33). So says the Gospel: “he had compassion,” that is, his heart, was moved; he was moved within! See the difference. The other two “saw,” but their hearts remained closed, cold. Instead, the Samaritan’s heart was attuned to God’s heart itself. In fact, “compassion” is an essential characteristic of God’s mercy. God has compassion for us. What does it mean? He suffers with us; He feels our sufferings. Compassion means: “to share with.” The word indicates that something within us moves and trembles on seeing man’s ill. And in the gestures and the actions of the Good Samaritan we recognize God’s merciful action in the whole history of salvation. It is the same compassion with which the Lord comes to meet each one of us: He does not ignore us, He knows our sorrows; He knows how much we need help and consolation. He comes close to us and never abandons us. Each one of us should ask himself the question and answer in his heart: “Do I believe this? Do I believe that the Lord has compassion for me, just as I am, a sinner, with so many problems and so many things?” Think of this and the answer is: “Yes!” But each one must look into his heart to see if he has faith in this compassion of God, of the good God who comes close, who heals us, who caresses us. And if we refuse Him, He waits: He is patient and is always at our side.
The Samaritan behaved with true mercy: he dressed that man’s wounds, he took him to the inn, took personal care of him and provided for his assistance. All this teaches us that compassion, love, is not a vague feeling, but it means to take care of the other even to paying in person. It means to commit oneself, taking all the necessary steps to “come close” to the other, to the point of identifying oneself with him” “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Behold the Lord’s Commandment.
The parable having ended, Jesus turns around the question of the Doctor of the Law and asks him: “Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (v. 36) Finally, the answer is unequivocal: “The one who showed mercy on him” (v. 27) At the beginning of the parable, for the priest and the Levite their neighbor was the dying man; at the end <of the parable> it is the Samaritan who came close. Jesus turns the perspective around: not to classify others to see who is a neighbor and who is not. You can become a neighbor to anyone you meet in need, and you will be so if you have compassion in your heart, that is, if you have that capacity to suffer with the other.
This parable is a stupendous gift for all of us, and also a commitment! Jesus repeats to each one of us what He said to the Doctor of the Law: “Go and do likewise” (v. 37). We are all called to follow the same path of the Good Samaritan, who is a figure of Christ: Jesus bent over us, made Himself our servant, and thus He saved us, so that we too are able to love as He loved us, in the same way.