Scripture for the Sick or Dying: Luke 10:25-37

Over the centuries, the Good Samaritan parable has been much preached upon and the comments and reflections on it would no doubt fill a library. No doubt, it’s a lovely story of compassion. Christians have long associated Samaritan with “good,” so the old enmity with Judah has faded except for Bible scholars.

In the Pastoral Care rites, it has a context. I’d like to explore that. At first glance, the central character would seem to be a caregiver, not unlike the personnel a sick or injured person would know in a hospital, hospice, medical center, emergency room, or other situation of healing attention. Is this reading for the minister? Perhaps not.

Everyone wants to know the answer to the question offered here:

There was a scholar of the law
who stood up to test him and said,
“Teacher, what must I do
to inherit eternal life?”

And if a believer finds herself or himself at the end of life, that question is apt. Is there anything a mortal person can do? Like many good teachers, Jesus draws the answer out of the legal scholar’s mind and mouth. Jews know the answer well. Even we Christians, for we have it from the Lord’s own tradition as well. It is part of the Sh’ma Yisra’el (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

Jesus said to him,
“What is written in the law?
How do you read it?”
He said in reply,
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your being,
with all your strength,
and with all your mind,
and your neighbor as yourself.”

This last bit about the neighbor you likely know is an appendage from Leviticus 19:18. Other gospels place it on Jesus’ lips. But whoever speaks it, utters the truth of faith in the One God. Such faith is not abrogated for the seriously ill person. Every believer is obliged, especially if their motivation is to be in union with God in eternal life.

The conversation does not end with the commandment. The Lord affirms the scholar’s response and leaves a door open:

He replied to him,
“You have answered correctly;
do this and you will live.”

Remember that Luke presents this scholar as testing Jesus. This test continues with a question:

But because he wished to justify himself,
he said to Jesus,
“And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus is prepared to blow the door off cultural conventions of the day. This is not the stuff of a new religion. This is all about stretching human beings and jolting us into looking at matters with God’s eyes of mercy, and not “how we’ve always done it.”

Jesus replied,
“A man fell victim to robbers
as he went down
from Jerusalem to Jericho.
They stripped and beat him
and went off leaving him half-dead.
A priest happened to be going down that road,
but when he saw him,
he passed by on the opposite side.
Likewise a Levite came to the place,
and when he saw him,
he passed by on the opposite side.
But a Samaritan traveler
who came upon him
was moved with compassion
at the sight.

This would be shocking to the believing audience of Jesus’ day. Sure, there were good reasons–ritual purity, a lure for robbers, and the like–to bypass a likely dead guy on a lonely trail. But the call of mercy overrides this for the traveler. God touches an unexpected person with divine compassion. The rest of the tale we well know.

He approached the victim,
poured oil and wine
over his wounds
and bandaged them.
Then he lifted him up
on his own animal,
took him to an inn
and cared for him.
The next day
he took out two silver coins
and gave them to the innkeeper
with the instruction,
‘Take care of him.
If you spend more
than what I have given you,
I shall repay you on my way back.’
Which of these three,
in your opinion,
was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?”
He answered,
“The one who treated him with mercy.”
Jesus said to him,
“Go and do likewise.”

When sick, is a Christian prepared to receive care from a different kind of person? Another sex, another sex-attraction, another color, another social class, another politics, another age–just someone so different we pull back from care or touch or conversation? Just because a person is seriously ill or even dying, they are not excused from union with God’s mercy. And that’s not just about mercy received. Treating a person with mercy is the deepest possible imitation of Christ we can muster. When we’ve been knocked on our tails by serious injury, cancer or another illness, or the end of our life, are we concerned about eternal life? We should be. We should want to engage the mercy we would expect–we would hope would be ours.

For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Pastoral Care of the Sick, Scripture. Bookmark the permalink.

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