"Won't You Be My Neighbor?"

Last week’s Gospel was from Luke 10: 25-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan.  (Of the four Gospel accounts, Luke is my go-to. Its very possible that he interviewed and ministered to Mary before she died, as he was a physician.  Thats neither here nor there; I just find it fascinating to imagine interviewing the Mother of God HERSELF! Anyway….) The overall message of the parable was “love your neighbor as yourself.”  For grieving parents (or parents in general for that matter), though, that seems to be a near impossible task. We preach kindness to others and love your neighbor as yourself, but how do we speak kindness to ourselves in our wounded brokenness?

A deacon I know says this often: Live for J.O.Y. Jesus, others, yourself.  However, we cannot pour from an empty pitcher. We also need to allow Jesus to minister to US.  But how many times do we put everyone else’s needs ahead of our own, often to our detriment? St. Mother Teresa said that in every person she came across, she could see the suffering face of Jesus, ‘just in different disguises’.  Doesn’t that same suffering Jesus exist within us? Are we somehow lesser or our suffering somehow lesser than those we meet or minister to? Are we not all made in His image and likeness? Why should we care for the suffering Jesus dwelling in us less than the suffering Jesus dwelling in others?!     

Let’s imagine for a little while.  Put yourself, your wounded heart, your weary soul into the tale of the Good Samaritan in the place of the person who’s been beaten and left for dead.  You’re battered, bruised and broken; feeling abandoned and alone on the sidelines of life by the people who ‘should’ be the first to care for and minister to you.  Maybe you even feel invisible to others and forgotten by God.  

In the parable, the priest and the Levite just walked on past the broken, bruised and suffering man.  Historically, they SHOULD have been the ones to at least check on the man lying on the roadside, but they didn’t.  Maybe they wanted to but were too fearful of what others would think. Maybe they were too caught up in their own lives to notice the heap of broken man that lay in their path.  Perhaps they saw but didn’t WANT to see and thought, “Oh, poor fellow. I’ll pray for that guy, that someone more qualified than me can tend to him and his needs.” If this sounds familiar, it could be because this is how you’ve felt about the way you were (or are being) treated by the “priests and Levites” that you’ve encountered: family, friends, co-workers, parishioners, even strangers in the grocery store line.  

For a long time, I harbored a lot of anger towards those people in my own life, which led to feelings of resentment, animosity and anxiety.  In what I can only explain as a moment of Divine Inspiration, I believe the Spirit helped me to understand that, in fact, I was the only one being hurt by holding on to my anger.  I also believe that the Spirit gave me the clarity to see the “priests & Levites” in my life for what they were, to understand that they were not going to change and that I had to accept them as such.  This gave me the strength to forgive them, but not for their sakes. Most of them didn’t even realize what they’d done or understand how deeply and profoundly their actions or NON-actions had hurt me. No, I forgave them because I needed to be free from the festering wounds of resentment and anxiety that were spreading into other areas of my life that were being poisoned by all that hurt.  It was possibly, no…. It was probably the first time I willingly exposed my wounds to Jesus and allowed him, through the Spirit, to heal my brokenness.  I think it may have been the first time I ever even considered being NICE to myself or putting the care and keeping of me FIRST!  

Think now, of your own story, in your own life, about the people who WERE there to help you.  The people who sat with you in moments of darkness and despair. The ones who held you when you cried out in sadness or anger.  The ones who listened while you talked or screamed or yelled at God. The ones who KNOW you and were concerned enough to enter into the hurt and darkness with you.  The ones who love you, who got down in the dirt with you and pulled you out of yourself when they saw you ‘going too dark.’  THEY are your Good Samaritans.  

Remember for a moment that today, while you’re reading this article, that you are the broken, battered and humiliated heap of a person laying at the roadside, with your wounded heart exposed and vulnerable, feeling invisible and forgotten by the world.  Really put yourself in that moment.  Close your eyes and picture yourself.  Seriously.  Close your eyes!  Don’t open them until you can truly see it and feel it.  (I’ll wait.)

I assume you’ve opened your eyes again or you wouldn’t be able to read this. Now imagine… that Jesus himself… is pouring oil and wine on your wounds… ministering to your broken heart… through those Good Samaritans.  Surrender to that image for a moment.  Let that thought, that feeling, sink in.   

(We’ll come back to that in a little bit.)  I was curious about the ancient practice of pouring oil and wine over wounds, so I did a little research.  Turns out there are some very practical, medicinal reasons for this. The oil protected the raw tissue by forming a barrier between it and outer contaminants.  It also helped the body to form scabs easier, which would provide even more protection to the fragile tissue of an open wound. Red wine contains elements that are known anti-bacterials and acted as a disinfectant to help the body rid itself of any contamination that may have entered the wound when it occurred.  The oil & wine and the wounded tissue of the body enabled each other to heal the injury.

Through the sacraments and the instruments of the sacraments - the Chrism oil of Baptism, Confirmation, & Holy Orders; the Wine of Consecration used at every mass around the world - JESUS MINISTERS TO US.  He washes the wounds of our weary, battered hearts with oil and wine just as the Good Samaritan poured them over the physical wounds of the man at the side of the road. As the Good Samaritan gave the innkeeper “...two denarii...saying, “Take care of him and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back….”, Jesus left His Most Precious Body and Blood in the sacrament of the Eucharist to take care of us until he comes back.  

As the overall meaning of the Good Samaritan tale is to love your neighbor as yourself, the overall meaning of this article is that the Good Samaritan is also about how we need to let Our Lord love on us!  We only have to allow him to do so.  Whether through the Sacraments, through Divine Inspiration of the Spirit, or through the love and care of the Good Samaritans in our own lives, Christ wants to lovingly hold our broken hearts in His hands, to bind them up and treat them so we can begin to heal.  Without His care, we cannot survive the seasons of our lives, much less the storms - and there are always storms.  

Just like physical wounds, the wounds of our hearts can reopen and the pain will be just as real and just as terrible as it was the on day our hearts were broken. Each and every time, though, Jesus is there like the Good Samaritan, ready with the oil and wine to pour over us through the sacraments so the healing can begin anew. We only have to allow him access to our wounded hearts. Just as injured tissues needed the help that the oil and wine provided in ancient times, we need the oil and wine that Christ provides for our brokenness. We simply have to be KIND & MERCIFUL TO OURSELVES by accepting his loving care, by receiving the sacraments and receiving them often. And He will bind us up.