Shared suffering and compassion Print
Sunday scripture column

Jem Sullivan

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Prv 8:22-31
Psalm 8:4-9
Rom 5:1-5
Jn 16:12-15

I've heard the Gospel parable of the good Samaritan many times over. Yet this striking story bears repeated hearing because it presents a life-changing path we can easily overlook or forget altogether.

While there is a good Samaritan in all of us, our tendency to self-preservation blinds us to the burning question that becomes the center of the conversation between Jesus and the scholar of the law who asks, "Who is my neighbor?"

The dialogue between Jesus and the scholar of the law is not a friendly exchange. Rather, St. Luke tells us that the scholar sets out to test Jesus in the hope of trapping Jesus in his own words.

Yet the questions he asks Jesus speak to the core of our being. Try as we might, we cannot avoid these fundamental questions of life.

We know this from the persistent longing we experience for something beyond the material world. We may ignore this longing for God or find pleasurable or destructive substitutes, but God himself is inscribed deep in our being.

St. Luke tells us the priest and the Levite crossed to the opposite side to avoid encountering the stripped, beaten man who lay abandoned on the roadside. What made the Samaritan traveler respond differently?

St. Luke simply tells us that the Samaritan was moved with compassion. In other words, his heart was open not only to the suffering of another, but to suffering with another, which is the root meaning of the word "compassion."

Jem Sullivan is secretary for Catholic education of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.