For Love of God…and Neighbor

What’s more important, fulfilling your duties toward God or helping your neighbor? While the answer to who your neighbor is might be obvious, this one is a bit trickier. That’s a conundrum two Jewish prelates are presented with in this week’s gospel, Luke 10:25-37, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

In 1973, two Princeton social psychologists conducted a study with seminary students using this parable as inspiration. They asked the seminarians to prepare a 3-5 minute talk on being a minister and what kinds of jobs were involved. Half were asked to incorporate the Parable of the Good Samaritan into their talk. The other half weren’t. The psychologists were looking to answer the question: would thinking about religious issues influence their behavior if they saw someone in need?

Within the experiment was a surprise. The students had to give their talk at another building across campus at a specific time. Researchers told some students there was plenty of time. No need to rush. A second set were told it was starting soon and they had to rush a little. Researchers told a third set they were late and had to rush to get there. Waiting in the student’s path was an actor slumped over in a doorway and moaning in obvious distress. Would they stop? It turns out, engaging in thoughts about helping others had no effect on the student’s behavior. Even the ones giving a talk on the parable were no more likely to stop and help someone obviously in need. What did have an effect was time. Those in less of a hurry were more likely to stop. Those in a rush were not. In several instances, students giving talks on the Good Samaritan literally stepped over the suffering man. Sound familiar?

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the victim is “going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.” It’s likely the priest and Levite are heading towards Jerusalem to minister in the Temple when they meet him. They have no way of knowing if the man is dead. To find out, they would have to touch him, which renders them ritually impure. It would take seven days to get that purity back. By that time, it’s likely too late to fulfill their duties. In other words, they were in a rush to complete their assignments and stopping to help the man might make that impossible. Even though they were religious men and going to minister to God in the Temple, they made the same choice as most of the Princeton seminarians. They passed by.

I once heard a story about a Franciscan priest in New York City walking to his regular, weekly adoration time. On the way, this priest saw a man in obvious need and stopped to help. He stayed with the man until assistance arrived, but by that time the priest had missed his time for adoration. This realization left him with guilt. He had neglected his Lord. When he prayed and apologized, he felt God say he had indeed fulfilled his adoration time. He fulfilled it while helping the unfortunate man in need.

Jesus tells this parable in conjunction with the question of how to gain eternal life. He gives the double precept of charity—love God and love your neighbor. This is taken from Deuteronomy 6:4ff. It’s a prayer Jews said frequently. There was a hierarchy and sequence to this command. God comes first. Then comes love of neighbor. But Jesus needed to correct the overly ritualistic interpretations so common at the time. From the viewpoint of strict observance of the Law, the priest and the Levite feel they are doing their duty. They are placing God, and their ministerial responsibilities to God, first. But the regulations on impurity were meant for hygiene and respect for the dead, not to keep someone from taking care of a wounded man and possibly preventing a death. By interpreting the second half of the commandment so strictly, they are sinning against the first, loving God himself.

Jesus makes this understanding plain in his story about the last judgment in Matthew 25:31-46. In the passage, the Son of Man claims his throne at the end of time and condemns those followers who did not take care of him. The followers ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” He replies, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.” You minister to Christ when you minister to your brothers and sisters. There is not separation or hierarchy between the two parts of the Law. Each informs and depends on the other. You can’t have one without having both…and your salvation stands upon this.

The takeaway here is you must make time for others. Sure, you’re busy. Yes, there are priorities and limits. You can’t spend all your time taking care of other people. But Jesus’ point is clear, you can’t be so caught up in your own affairs that you neglect those in need. We are all saved together. No one makes it to heaven alone. Each of us has different talents, abilities, and gifts for furthering God’s plan of salvation. Not everyone has the same gifts, so we rely on each other. If you don’t use your gifts, someone might not by saved. If someone doesn’t use their gifts, you might not be saved. Don’t leave your neighbors in need. Allow the Lord to work through you to rescue, bandage, and heal all you meet and bring them to the “inn” of the Catholic Church. Your eternal life depends on it.

Marc Cardaronella is Director of the Office of Catechesis and Faith Formation.

For complete daily Scripture texts, click here:

Daily Scripture Readings

Monday, July 15
Exodus 1:8-14, 22
Psalms 124:1B-3, 4-6, 7-8
Matthew 10:34—11:1

Tuesday, July 16
Exodus 2:1-15a
Psalms 69:3, 14, 30-31, 33-34
Matthew 11:20-24

Wednesday, July 17
Exodus 3:1-6, 9-12
Psalms 103:1b-2, 3-4, 6-7
Matthew 11:25-27

Thursday, July 18
Exodus 3:13-20
Psalms 105:1 & 5, 8-9, 24-25, 26-27
Matthew 11:28-30

Friday, July 19
Exodus 11:10—12:14
Psalms 116:12-13, 15 & 16bc, 17-18
Matthew 12:1-8

Saturday, July 20
Exodus 12:37-42
Psalms 136:1 & 23-24, 10-12, 13-15
Matthew 12:14-21

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 21
Genesis 18:1-10a
Psalms 15:2-3, 3-4, 5
Colossians 1:24-28
Luke 10:38-42

Monday, July 22
Songs 3:1-4b
or 2 Corinthians 5:14-17
Psalms 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
John 20:1-2, 11-18

Tuesday, July 23
Exodus 14:21—15:1
Exodus 15:8-9, 10 & 12, 17
Matthew 12:46-50

Wednesday, July 24
Exodus 16:1-5, 9-15
Psalms 78:18-19, 23-24, 25-26, 27-28
Matthew 13:1-9

Thursday, July 25
2 Corinthians 4:7-15
Psalms 126:1bc-2ab, 2cd-3, 4-5, 6
Matthew 20:20-28

Friday, July 26
Exodus 20:1-17
Psalms 19:8, 9, 10, 11
Matthew 13:18-23

Saturday, July 27
Exodus 24:3-8
Psalms 50:1b-2, 5-6, 14-15
Matthew 13:24-30

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 28
Genesis 18:20-32
Psalms 138:1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8
Colossians 2:12-14
Luke 11:1-13


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

November 29, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph