The Good Samaritan Of Social Justice

The Good Samaritan Of Social Justice November 9, 2021

Tim Kubacki: The Good Samaritan /flickr

In the Gospels, we read of the way many of the apostles were upset when they learned that there were others exorcising demons in Jesus’ name. John wanted to forbid them because he thought they were ignoring the apostles and their role in delegating the activities of the faithful. Jesus, however, said that John was wrong; Jesus indicated that John, the apostles, and therefore, the church should not be so controlling, but rather, they should welcome the good work of others:

 But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward” (Mk. 9:38-41 RSV).

Jesus wanted us to realize that when others did good, we should not be afraid and think they were replacing us. Instead, we should see how their work joins in with what we are (or should be) doing. Indeed, they will be rewarded for the good which they do. For, as he said elsewhere, even those who did good without explicitly doing it in his name or for him will find that they were doing it for him and with him when the truth is revealed (cf. Matt. 25:31-46).

When others put into practice works of justice and mercy, we should recognize they are working with us, not against us. We should not be afraid of them as if they are our rivals. We should not act or suggest that by doing such work, they are setting up new religions which seek to undermine our work. If we are afraid, it is not because of the good they do, but rather, because they put us to shame because they do the good which we have failed to do.  We must see that they rise up among us to do what we have not done,  and this is because the Lord will always lift someone up and have them do what is good and just if those who should be doing such work do not do so. This is one of the meanings we should get from Jesus when he said that the stones would cry out if those who should speak, do not speak (cf. Lk. 19:40).

Dorothy Day understood this. She believed that one of the reasons why communists were so successful in the world is because Christians had ignored the cry of the oppressed:

As Catholics we too feel called upon to protest against the Nazi persecution of Catholica and Jews by demonstration and distribution of literature. We feel that we would be neglecting our duty as Catholics if we did not do this. The Bishops of the Catholic Church have stated that many of the social aims of the Communists are Christian aims and should be worked for by Christians. We feel that Communism is gaining in this country, because Christian people do not protect against injustice as they do. [1]

A part of the problem lay in the way many Catholics believed that they need do nothing, that God could and would take care of everyone. They had lost their incarnational vision, believing that we should just focus on heaven while ignoring the earth and all that happened on it:

I have said over and over again that Catholics have more faith in God than they have in man and that is the trouble with religion. It is transferring our hopes from earth to heaven and from man to God to such an extent that we turn  to pie in the sky and forget that we are all members of the Mystical Body of Christ right here on this earth. [2]

The eschaton had become immanent, heaven had joined with earth, and so now, we, who have become a part of the Mystical Body of Christ, are expected to continue the work of Christ on earth. We are not to ignore injustices. We are not to ignore the plight of the poor. We are not to ignore abuses and do nothing when we see them going on. We are to promote the dignity of the human person. When systematic abuse undermines that dignity, we must work to overturn such abuse. If we won’t, someone else will, and they will be doing the work which we should be doing; they would be the ones exorcising evil from the world. When they do so, we should not be like John, complaining as if they took something away from us, but rather, we should remember what Jesus said, that those who are not against us are with us, and so we should support them in the work they do. Indeed, we are called to share that work with everyone, no matter their background: “The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.” [3]

The work of social justice has often been neglected by Christians. This has caused many others to take our place in the work which mut be done. They raised the awareness of problems which we have long ignored. Their solutions might be imperfect, but they are at least attempts to engage problems which we failed to recognize. We must hear the cry of the oppressed, and even listen to those who have spoken out on their behalf. We must have the humility to learn from those who have taken the issues seriously, even if we must also add to it what was lacking, that is, the grace which we have been given, the grace which can perfect nature. It is long past time for us to take our responsibility seriously, which is why Vatican II said that it is now a special obligation for us, in our times, to deal with issues of social justice:

In our times a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception and of actively helping him when he comes across our path, whether he be an old person abandoned by all, a foreign laborer unjustly looked down upon, a refugee, a child born of an unlawful union and wrongly suffering for a sin he did not commit, or a hungry person who disturbs our conscience by recalling the voice of the Lord, “As long as you did it for one of these the least of my brethren, you did it for me” (Matt. 25:40). [4]

And because others have indeed done work which we have not done, they have taken on the role of the Good Samaritan. They have proved their love of neighbor has been greater than our own. We must draw near them, and work with them, indeed, learn from them. One thing many of them tell us is that we must help others, regardless of their social group. Pope Francis, having learned this, says the same:

Jesus asks us to be present to those in need of help, regardless of whether or not they belong to our social group. In this case, the Samaritan became a neighbour to the wounded Judean. By approaching and making himself present, he crossed all cultural and historical barriers. Jesus concludes the parable by saying: “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37). In other words, he challenges us to put aside all differences and, in the face of suffering, to draw near to others with no questions asked. I should no longer say that I have neighbours to help, but that I must myself be a neighbour to others. [5]

Likewise, we must work with all who would serve and love their neighbor, regardless of their social group. This is why Jesus had a Samaritan as the one who did good in his parable, for the Samaritans were looked down upon by those who were in Jesus’ Jewish community. They were seen as outsiders, indeed, as religious rivals because of their alternative take and understanding of the Torah. We, therefore, must recognize the good which is done by those who are not Christians, those who engage social justice. If we try to find excuses to denigrate that work because they are not Christians like us, we have not learned what Jesus wanted us to learn from his parable. Recognizing this, Pope Francis made it clear that various groups working for and embracing social justice must be seen as taking the place of the Good Samaritan today:

Do you know what comes to mind now when, together with popular movements, I think of the Good Samaritan? Do you know what comes to mind? The protests over the death of George Floyd. It is clear that this type of reaction against social, racial or macho injustice can be manipulated or exploited by political machinations or whatever, but the main thing is that, in that protest against this death, there was the Collective Samaritan who is no fool! This movement did not pass by on the other side of the road when it saw the injury to human dignity caused by an abuse of power. The popular movements are not only social poets but also collective Samaritans.[6]

We must not speak of popular social justice movements with disdain, seeking to undermine them; rather, we must recognize the cry of the oppressed has been heard by them. They are not willing to pass by the oppressed like we have. They are not rivals, but rather, fellow workers and leaders in dealing with the issues of the day. Do we have to agree with everything they believe? No, just as Jesus did not promote everything the Samaritans believed when he used a Samaritan to represent the kind of love we should all have for our neighbor. We are dealing with major problems in the world, none of us, not even Christians, know all that needs to be done, which is why we must work together. We can and should complement each other with what we know and can do. We must truly realize and accept that those who are with us in pursuit of social justice are not against us. Thus, Pope Francis also said:

The social teaching of the Church does not have all the answers, but it does have some principles that along this journey can help to concretize the answers, principles useful to Christians and non-Christians alike. It sometimes surprises me that every time I speak of these principles, some people are astonished, and then the Holy Father gets labeled with a series of epithets that are used to reduce any reflection to mere discrediting adjectives. It doesn’t anger me, it saddens me. It is part of the post-truth plot that seeks to nullify any humanistic search for an alternative to capitalist globalisation, it is part of the throwaway culture, and it is part of the technocratic paradigm. [7]

We must keep in mind what Jesus said. Jesus said we should not oppose those casting out demons. Those who work to cast out various injustice in the world by exorcising the systematic injustices which created them are with us and not against us. We are not to forbid them from acting on behalf of those suffering from such abuse. Rather, we are to work with them so we can make sure all forms of systematic evil are overturned. This way those evils which they do not know or neglect do not become neglected and cause new and worse forms of evil in society. We must work with them, not insult and reject them, for when we do that, all we do is make sure such evil remains and the good which Jesus would have us do is undermined.

[1] Dorothy Day, “Letter To the New York Police Commissioner. July 1935 ” in All The Way To Heaven: The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day. Ed. Robert Ellsberg (New York: Image Books, 2010), 95.

[2] Dorothy Day, “Letter to the Buffalo Catholic Worker. 1940,” in All The Way To Heaven: The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day. Ed. Robert Ellsberg (New York: Image Books, 2010), 156.

[3] Vatican Council II. Nostra Aetate.. Vatican translation. ¶2.

[4] Vatican Council II. Gaudium et spes. Vatican translation. ¶27.

[5] Pope Francis, Fratelli tutti. Vatican translation. ¶81.

[6] Pope Francis, “Video Messages on the Fourth World Meeting of Popular Movements.” Vatican translation.  ¶3.

[7] Pope Francis, “Video Messages on the Fourth World Meeting of Popular Movements.” Vatican translation.  ¶3.


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