Recently I read about a family that took a stranger into their home. He has no family and is slowly dying with a terminal disease.
I admired the family for its kindness and willingness to become involved with the plight of a stranger, but something troubled me about the story. It reminded me of my own fears and cowardice.
I am frightened of where multiple sclerosis may take me. What if my degenerative disability requires that I go to a nursing home like so many other people with degenerative diseases? It would remove me from being actively engaged in the lives of those I love most.
I avoid nursing homes: To see those who are living that nightmare reminds me of that mammoth fear and so I turn away from them. I do to others what I fear most. That is my shame. My fear is abandonment, yet I abandon. I want Good Samaritans for me yet I am not one to others. Fear has been a terrible motivation in my life.
The July cover of the Catholic Missal Living With Christ had an artist's depiction of Christ's parable of the Good Samaritan. The parable is taken from chapter 10 of Luke's Gospel.
Jesus was responding to a lawyer's test about inheriting eternal life. Jesus turned the question around and asked the lawyer "What is written in the Law?" The lawyer answered, "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 neighbour as yourself." So far so good, and Jesus told him his answer was right.
Then the lawyer cynically asked, "And who is my neighbour?" It doesn't take much discernment to detect the lawyer's question was meant to exclude some people from love's embrace. Jesus responded with a parable to illustrate that love should not have calculable limits.
Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan to illustrate that a neighbour is the person who shows mercy and a neighbour is also someone who needs mercy. Christ's story tells of a man who was attacked by robbers while travelling on a desolate road.
A priest and a Levite passed by the half dead man without helping him. It was a Samaritan who stopped to help. It's interesting that Christ spoke of a Samaritan because Samaritans and Jews were enemies and despised each other (Luke 9.51-56; John 4.9).
The Lord asked the lawyer, "Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" I imagine the lawyer must have felt a little uncomfortable and embarrassed at being put on the spot. He replied, "The one who showed him mercy."
Jesus' reply must have resonated with the lawyer just as it should resonate with you and me: "Go and do likewise."
There have been times it hasn't resonated with me, when I behaved like the priest and Levite and passed by someone in need. There probably were good excuses but they were excuses. The fact remained that someone needed my love but did not receive it.
At such moments, legitimate or lame excuses cheapened my connection to the human family not to mention my Christian faith.
Like the priest and Levite on a lonely stretch of road, there were times when I was afraid that a similar fate might fall upon me. If I stopped and became involved in somebody's predicament or anguish, my own monstrous fear might well up before me.
Yes, fear has been a terrible motivation in my life not to become involved or engaged with others. Sometimes I have been afraid that the needs of the needy may inconvenience me too much and demand more from me than I was prepared to give.
When I passed by a person in need, I may as well have done it to Christ. It would have been a poor defence for me to say, "At least it was not indifference." On the surface, it can be hard to distinguish inaction motivated by fear from that which comes from apathy. The opposite of love is not hate but indifference.
Have you ever turned a blind eye to the plight of someone in need? Perhaps it was fear that held you back. (I hope it was not indifference.) We are called to love God with our entire being and our neighbour as ourselves. Love calls us to action.