Our Good Samaritan Constitutions say we choose leaders for their wisdom and vision, and on more than one occasion, I have said, “Show me what that looks like”.
It occurred to me, we could ask the same of the words which set the scene for the much-loved parable of the Good Samaritan. Context is everything. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind and your neighbour as yourself,” says the lawyer, who wishes to entrap rather than engage with Jesus.
Jesus’ story about a nameless foreigner shows us what ‘being neighbour’ looks like, which in turn, shows us what it looks like to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart”. Your God, the God who dwells in your heart. This is a story about intimacy and relationship, not about dogma and duty.
The dogma and duty-doers are the Priest and the Levite. Good priests and Levites, to be sure. Most probably good men who love their families and their own kind. How like them we are when we put boundaries on our love. I’ll love those related to me, those who think like me and vote like me, those of the same race and creed – but the ‘other’? Often difference is perceived as weakness, or being less than me, and we know that St Benedict uncomfortably insists that we bear with the utmost patience the weakness, the difference, of others.
In his last speech, the day before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King spoke eloquently about two key lessons he learnt from the parable of the Good Samaritan. The first, King said, is that the Samaritan decided not to be compassionate by proxy. He didn’t just send thoughts and prayers to the man left for dead by the wayside. He didn’t send back the paramedics once he got to Jericho. He got personally involved and got his hands and clothes dirtied and bloodied. That’s what loving with all your heart looks like.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul. Your soul, your depth, that life-force, the essence which animates you, whose spirit will live on beyond your corruptible body, is unique. Loving with all your soul means that no one can love exactly like you.
I don’t think the Samaritan’s action in helping a battered foreigner was a once-off. He loved deeply and practically because this was who he was and how he operated in the world. Loving with all your soul means loving by being fully present with who you are, right here, right now, loving as you alone can uniquely love.
Edna St Vincent Millay, an American poet, writes about the way she loves which is different from the ways she sees others love. The image she uses for her soulful loving, is of a woman with a hat full of flowers or a skirt full of apples, calling out as children do, “Look what I have! – And these are all for you.”
Loving with all my soul is coming before God, or the person I encounter, with my apron full of apples and saying, “Look what I have! – And these are all for you.”
Like the Samaritan we are to love God and neighbour with all our strength by using our inner and external resources. The Samaritan had the strength of soul to lay aside his own agenda in favour of the other, the enemy.
He calls upon the strength of earth’s resources. He doesn’t exploit, but uses earth’s gifts of oil and wine for soothing, healing, and strengthening. Let’s not forget the donkey, whose strength enables the Samaritan to remove the injured man from danger.
Together with a strong compassionate heart and keen strategic thinking, he develops a plan, and then employs the strength of collaboration and partnership with the Inn-Keeper to implement the plan.
Loving God with all our strength can never mean loving God in isolation. Pope Francis often tells us that there is no future for humanity without collaboration. St Benedict concurs, it is only together that we go to everlasting life. We love God with all our strength when we honour the differing gifts within our group, and when we realise our interconnectedness with, and our dependence upon, the living and material resources of our beautiful home of planet Earth.
We are to love God and neighbour with all our mind. The Samaritan was on a notoriously dangerous road. I have travelled that road and would hate to have a flat tyre on it. It is remote and winding, the perfect scenario for a highway robbery by an Australian ‘bushranger’. The Samaritan used his mind to calculate the real existential risk of stopping to help a wounded man. Martin Luther King says that the second learning he takes from the parable is that it’s reasonable to ask, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” I might get mugged, I might get contaminated, I might be late for that important appointment in Jericho. But the motivating question that enables the Samaritan to become the enduring Good Samaritan is: “If I don’t stop to help this person, what will happen to him?”
Australia is having its own Jericho Road experience in relation to refugees and asylum seekers. Instead of self-interest trumping any other consideration for those languishing on Manus Island and Nauru, we love God with all our mind when we ask, “If we don’t find ways to assist these people, what will happen to them?”
What does it look like to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength? Jesus’ advice is to learn from the Good Samaritan and “do this and you shall live” (Luke 10:28).
This is a slightly edited version of a reflection given during the opening liturgy of the BENet conference, of the International Benedictine Education Community, held in Sydney 30 September-October 3, 2019.
Sister Patty Fawkner is the Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan.