The central figure in today’s Gospel is the Good Samaritan, the one who looked with compassion upon a stranger in need and treated him with mercy. Throughout this week we will find that we can gain a deeper insight into the readings if we ponder them in light of the Good Samaritan, seeking to learn more fully what Jesus wants to teach us by means of this parable.

In this week’s Spiritual Reflection, Pope Francis writes that the parable of the Good Samaritan “indicates a way of life, which has as its main point not ourselves, but others, with their difficulties, whom we encounter on our journey and who challenge us.” The first challenge is for us to get out of ourselves, which means for us to take our focus off our own concerns and desires and be present to those around us, to their concerns and needs. Once we do this, we come up against a second challenge, which is not only to be aware of others’ needs, but actually to do something to help them.

Pope Francis emphasizes the need to actively work to help our neighbors: “Do good works; don’t just say words that are gone with the wind.” He asks each of us to answer in our own heart the probing question, “Does my faith produce good works? Or is it sterile instead, and therefore more dead than alive? Do I act as a neighbor or simply pass by?”

The message of the parable is clear. Jesus has just approved of the answer of the scholar, who said that the essence of the law of God is to love God and to love our neighbor. Jesus teaches us in the parable that these two are connected. If we truly love God, then we love our neighbor, because God is present in our neighbor. We cannot say that we love God if we do not love our neighbor.

And as Pope Francis tells us, loving our neighbor cannot be merely a matter of good thoughts or words. The priest and the Levite who passed by without helping the man might have been thinking that they were doing a good job of loving God and keeping his commandments. They might have even said a prayer for the man as they passed by. But in failing to act with mercy towards the man, they failed in love of God as well.

In order to understand better why we should act toward others as the Good Samaritan did, we can recall Jesus’ parable about the servant who owed his king a huge sum of money and could not pay. The king forgave his debt, but then the servant refused to forgive his fellow servant who owed him only a small amount (cf. Mt 18:23-35). Clearly, Jesus means to show us that, like the first servant, we have been shown overwhelming mercy and compassion. This is the basis for the compassion we show to one another. In our sin condition we were far worse off than the traveler in the today’s parable, and God reached out to us with infinite mercy. We are called to follow his example. The Psalm for today also speaks of God’s care for us. The Lord saves us when we are afflicted and in pain. He causes the hearts of the lowly ones who seek him to revive. He “hears the poor, and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.”

Today’s reading from Colossians describes Christ in glorious words. He is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.… in him were created all things in heaven and on earth…. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the Church…. He is the beginning.… in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell.” St. Paul is speaking about the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who “humbled himself to share in our humanity” (from the priest’s prayer during the Preparation of the Gifts). He took on our human nature, served all whom he encountered throughout his life, and finally poured out his Blood for us on the Cross. This goes far beyond what the Good Samaritan did for the wounded traveler!

This is the kind of God we have, the very Best Samaritan! He is always “moved to compassion” at the sight of our need, and he acts to save us. As he has shown us mercy and compassion, so we must reach out with mercy to those around us who are in need. “For the LORD hears the poor, and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.” If he does not spurn them, we dare not do so. As Pope Francis reminds us, one day Christ will look at us and say to us about each person we were called to aid, “That was me.” Can we be so ungrateful as to spurn the One who has given everything to us?

Do I see God in every person I encounter? How often do I actively work to help my neighbor? When do I find it difficult to show mercy and compassion to others?

Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.