The parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk10:25-37) frames Fratelli Tutti (Chpt. 2). It invites us into the contemplative or reflective dimension of the letter.
In many ways, the main themes Fratelli Tutti are recognisable to anyone who is familiar with Catholic Social Teaching. But what is different is the way in which the letter not only presents arguments and ideas for us to think about, it also invites us into an affective, reflective and imaginative relationship with its themes.
This sort of prayerful contemplative approach is one that is used by St Ignatius in the Exercises. It makes the gospel a contemporary reality: the gospel re-reads and re-describes our experience and our world for us. As Jesus used the parable in his own time so now in ours, the Good Samaritan not only exposes the realities of our social wounds, it offers us a way of healing them. We are all persons in the parable.
Yet, it is so characteristic of Jesus in these great parables of redemption, he not only casts a light on the brokenness of our situation, he always opens the door for us to change. Each parable shows us the path to a better way of being and living: a new possibility, maybe one which we had thought was impossible. Indeed, it is the very encounter with Jesus that makes the new way possible; he breaks down all our determinisms, social as well as personal. As with Israel harassed by Pharaoh’s army on the shores of the Red sea, God always opens an exodus for us.
Here, it is helpful to recall that the parable is a response to a question: not only ‘who is my neighbour?’ but ‘what can I do to have eternal life?’ (Lk 10: 25.). Although we may not ask it exactly in this way, at some point it is a question that we all ask. We all long for that fullness of life which will not fade or disappoint us. We know, too, that there is no fulfilled life that is not life together – we need our friends and our neighbours.
Life is full of journeys. There are journeys we make for business, others for duty, some for love and others for adventure. Sometimes the way is easy and filled with companionship, at others it is difficult and lonely. We do not know why the man was going on the long road from Jerusalem to Jericho, we only meet him beaten, robbed and half-dead.
The first chapter, Fratelli Tutti, describes a world that is also bruised, confused and vulnerable; a world filled with broken dreams and shattered lives (§ 10ff). Filled with conflicts between peoples and nations, vast numbers of families and children displaced by war and by economies which produce ever-greater inequalities across the whole spectrum of society and its structures.
There appears to be an implicit violence built into our relationships brought about by markets that want us to compete against each other or consume products and the diminishing natural resources that we all need to live (§44. ff). Not only does the media inform us, it wants to control and manipulate us: we the consumers are ourselves consumed. People themselves have become commodities to be trafficked (§18). We are served by a culture of individualism that constantly legitimates the priority of ‘me’ over others.
The relationship between nations, regulated by laws, treaties and guarantees of human rights offers a fragile shelter. It constantly challenged when it becomes inconvenient to the brokers of power and no longer suits their purposes. Ideologies, religious as well as secular, emerge and further alienate us, imprisoning us in distorted views of each other, making us easier to manipulate and remote from the possibilities of true dialogue and community.
Our way of living has become deracinated, not only from our natural roots in communities, but from our cultures so that new forms of cultural colonisation can take hold (§13). Politics and political discourse have been emptied of their substance; they constantly run the danger of fostering hate and division (§15;ff.). In this world which feeds off ephemera, in which everything is disposable, the human person also loses value, especially those who are on the edges or whose life or condition makes them vulnerable. In such societies, except for the privileged few, no one is really secure, and all life is precarious. In such a rapid, hyper-world, Who is my neighbour? Who has time to be my neighbour? When I have nothing to offer in return, on whom can I rely for help? When I am no longer a value but a liability, who can depend on (§52)? Who will hear my cries (§11)?
Of course, in the parable the man who has been beaten and robbed is not alone. A number of people pass him by.
We all have ways of not seeing, of resisting demands or filtering out the cries that disturb us or may disrupt our journey or our own concerns (§63 ff; 70;73;74). Our societies are well practice at giving us reasons for not seeing the wounded on the road or converting their vulnerability into their moral failure, actually making our passing by a sort of virtue. The wounded can be treated with suspicion, perhaps it is they who are setting a trap for us or why do we pay taxes? Isn’t it the responsibility of the State or someone else to deal with this? (§75) There is no end to the way we can justify our passing by on the other side. ‘ Am I my brother’s keeper? (§57; )
“Let us admit that, for all the progress we have made, we are still “illiterate” when it comes to accompanying, caring for and supporting the most frail and vulnerable members of our developed societies. We have become accustomed to looking the other way, passing by, ignoring situations until they affect us directly.” (§64)
The action that takes the risk to heal.
And yet, astonishingly, someone did stop: a Samaritan. In doing so, he may well have put himself in danger, for in this part of the world he was the outsider, the one who was to be shunned. The Samaritan does not pause to do a risk assessment or make a calculation or check to see if he is covered by insurance. His response is immediate and unconditional, he can only see the urgency: a life hangs in the balance. In his simple human response to someone in pain the ‘good’ Samaritan suddenly exposes the emptiness of all the reasons for walking by on the other side. ‘Here, all our distinctions, labels, masks fall away: it is the moment of truth. Will we bend down to touch and heal the wounds of other?” (§70)
Something else also happens. Whatever form it takes, there is no way of describing the sense of isolation and loneliness that violence brings. All the carefully constructed securities that give us a sense of who we are, are immediately destroyed. The Samaritan not only tends the physical wounds, but the deeper wounds to the sense of self. Without even saying a word, he says to the victim, you do have value and you are worthy of care. And if ever that was in doubt, look at how lavish is the care he provides, even looking ahead to his future needs. The Samaritan does not seem to ask for anything in return, not even a forwarding address! It is enough to restore a life, heal a soul, be a friend even if it is just for this moment (§78;79).
“The story of the Good Samaritan is constantly being repeated”(§71). It is an old story, but it never loses its meaning. If we want to, we can see it happening every day, especially in these days of CV19 when so many risk their own lives to save the lives of others who are not even known to them.
The real mystery of our world is not that evil exists; that people are capable of so much inhumanity. It is that goodness is never exhausted. There is always ‘a heart that has eyes’ and hand that wants to hold ours until we are ready to walk again. (§75).
The parable of the Good Samaritan shows us that our society, our communities and relationships are not permanently broken. We can restore them. This is not some idealistic dream or naïve optimistic hope, “Like the chance traveller in the parable, we need only have a pure and simple desire to be a people, a community, constant and tireless in the effort to include, integrate and lift up the fallen. We may often find ourselves succumbing to the mentality of the violent, the blindly ambitious, those who spread mistrust and lies. Others may continue to view politics or the economy as an arena for their own power plays. For our part, let us foster what is good and place ourselves at its service.” (§77)
And it can all begin with reaching out to the other whoever they are, whatever state they are in. We can decide that we will not let anyone, or any circumstance diminish our humanity or the humanity of another person.
Reflecting on the parable, Fratelli Tutti, reminds us that we are not alone nor can we manage everything on our own. We need friends and helpers; we need communities that will nourish the good in us and call us to greater and more generous lives together. This is certainly the mission of the Church, even though in its own history it has so much for which to seek forgiveness. It is certainly the mission of everyone who cares about the deep truths that remind us of our humanity and those who, in every age and culture, are its witnesses. (§86).
Fratelli Tutti insightfully extends the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke to Matthew 25. Here, in a bold and radical way, Jesus identifies himself with the hungry, the thirsty, the prisoner, the naked, the sick, the stranger. All those identified in the traditional corporal works of mercy. If we wish to see Jesus, to meet him and to know him, it is in the service of these marginal and forgotten ones that we will find him.
Imagine a society which made these simple acts of compassion and care its priority? For Christians, these relations of compassion and self-gift in service can be traced to their source in the life of the Trinity, in whose image every man and woman is made and endowed with an infinite dignity and value (§85). Here, the letter, captures something of the other image that Jesus gave us in the parable of the Good Samaritan. It was not just a critical challenge to Israel; it was a beautiful and profound vision of the God who comes to find us distressed, injured and abandoned. A God who is prepared to pay the ultimate price that we might be healed.