5 October, Monday — On Caricatures

Monday of Week 27 in Ordinary Time

Gal 1:6-12
Lk 10:25-37

So now whom am I trying to please — man, or God? Would you say it is men’s approval I am looking for?

It’s a tough time to be in America right now. We are so divided, so unyielding, unwilling to consider the viewpoint of another if it doesn’t agree with our own. How did we get to this place? Did our demons sneak up on us when we were distracted? And how do we move on from here?

At my prayer group, we once did a role-play exercise with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We each took one of the fallen characters from the parable and played it out — Victim, Priest and Levite. The exercise was a study in empathy. Its aim was to get us to walk in each character’s shoes, to better understand what motivated their decision making. No one is wholly good or bad. Seeing a man beaten up by the road and left for dead, everyone stops, even if it’s to look. So why did the Priest and Levite not only hurry by, they crossed to the opposite side of the street, so as not to see? Was it because they lacked compassion? Or was it because they were afraid? Afraid of being judged for fraternizing with the other side? Afraid of getting their hands dirty? Was it a lack of compassion or was it fear and self preservation?

No one is wholly good or bad. Everyone’s struggle is different but be sure that we are all struggling. We are all in need of being rescued by Christ, the one true Samaritan. People make bad decisions. That’s a fact of life. In some interpretations of the parable, the road from Jerusalem to Jericho is the road to spiritual ruin. The Victim, the Levite and the Priest were all headed in that direction, each one setting himself up for a fall. Why did they choose such a path? Who knows but who are we to judge? Without empathy, we won’t have compassion, and without compassion, we won’t understand why people make the decisions they do. Without empathy and compassion, we are quick to blame and pass judgment, quick to paint caricatures of people who are not like us. Quick to paint caricatures of ourselves too. With our limited understanding of another’s motivations, we think we know best, we think we are always right and anyone who doesn’t agree with us, well they’re wrong! We make ourselves out to be caricatures of self-righteousness! But it doesn’t have to be like this. It doesn’t have to be so… absolute! The Samaritan in the parable never asks whether the Victim is deserving of help or not. He simply does the good and decent thing. We don’t have to be so tribal. We were once neighbors who baked pies for each other, who were compassionate, who did good and decent things because we were good and decent people. We are still good and decent people. Let’s leave aside these caricatures we think we need to be and go back to doing good and decent things, regardless of whether it appeases the tribes we think we should belong to.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: I pray for our nation, not that we be great again because greatness is overrated, but that we choose compassion, understanding and empathy over self-righteousness and anger; that we choose forgiveness instead of vengeance, that we aim not for abundance for ourselves but a dignified life for all.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for those who toil in service of others, putting aside their happiness and their needs, sacrificing their dreams for the greater good of those in their families and their communities. We ask that God find them wherever they are and give them strength, comfort, renewal and courage.

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