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Hello! Welcome to the Wisdom of Pope Francis podcast where we take a bit of a deeper dive into the teachings of Pope Francis. I am your host, Catholic Anonymous. Of course, that’s not my real name. But it is the name of my umbrella blog that has all sorts of interesting stuff. Check it out. It’s catholicanonymous.blog
Currently, I’m going through Pope Francis’ latest encyclical: Fratelli Tutti. In the last episode, I wrapped up chapter one where the pope gave something like an overview of many of the problems our world is facing today: human trafficking, inhumane treatment of immigrants, our disconnect from real relationships, and a lot more.
In chapter two, though, Pope Francis shifts gears and takes us to the heart of what the Christian faith has to say about all of these problems, and he focuses on a well-known story Jesus told in the Bible. It’s the story of the Good Samaritan. If you don’t know this story, it goes something like this.
A teacher of the Jewish law asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life – to go to Heaven.
Jesus responded by asking him what he thought the answer to that question was. How did he read the Torah, or Jewish law in regards to that? And the man replied that the way he read it was that we need to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and we need to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Jesus then basically said, “Ok. Well, you know the answer, so go do it.”
But the Jewish lawyer kind of wanted to justify himself and maybe wiggle himself out of how difficult this answer was. So he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
And Jesus responded by telling the famous story of the Good Samaritan.
Before I dive into this story, I need to give a little context. Jesus is a Jew. He is talking to Jewish people about Jewish matters of the law. The Samaritans, who you need to know a little bit about, were a different ethnic group who worshiped God in a different way. They were hated by the Jews. Pope Francis makes this point himself when he says this
The most offensive charge that those who sought to discredit Jesus could bring was that he was “possessed” and “a Samaritan.”Article 83
I could go into deeper reasons for why they hated them so much, but I don’t want to drag this episode out. Suffice it to say, Jews did not like Samaritans.
So anyway, Jesus tells this story, and I think it’s worth reading word for word here.
Then Jesus asked the Jewish lawyer this question: Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?
The lawyer replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
There’s so much going on in this story, and it has so much to teach us that Pope Francis spends the rest of the chapter unpacking it and applying to these problems he outlined in the previous chapter. He begins by saying “This parable has to do with an age-old problem.” Am I my brother’s keeper? Am I responsible for other people who suffer?
God’s answer throughout the Bible is always, “Yes, you are.” In the Torah, or ancient Jewish law, this may have applied largely to being a neighbor to fellow countrymen, but even then, there were multiple passages in Jewish law that Pope Francis highlights that drive home the point that strangers, immigrants, and refugees needed to be treated well and embraced within the borders of Israel.
After Jesus, this principle of loving one’s neighbor expanded to include love for all people, not just those of your own group, nationality, or even religion.
So what does this story tell us about ourselves and our responsibilities? To get at the answer to that question, one way to look at this story is to consider what the Good Samaritan gave this man who was beaten and left for dead. Pope Francis says that the Samaritan gave what was maybe the most important thing: his time and attention. The Good Samaritan noticed the nearly dead man – he saw him – and set aside his own plans and agenda to attend to him.
The pope applies this to us in this way
Let us admit that, for all the progress we have made, we are still “illiterate” when it comes to accompanying, caring for and supporting the most frail and vulnerable members of our developed societies. We have become accustomed to looking the other way, passing by, ignoring situations until they affect us directly.Article 64
Reading this, I’m reminded of something Pope Francis does a lot in his writings. He takes these principles that are addressed to individuals in the Bible and he applies them to how the entire world should function. So, for example, the story of the Good Samaritan was meant to encourage this one person to be a more loving person to his neighbors, but the pope takes that and leaps into macroeconomic visions of society. Here’s a quote from him just as an example:
…we are called to direct society to the pursuit of the common good and, with this purpose in mind, to persevere in consolidating its political and social order, its fabric of relations, its human goals.Article 66
Now me, being the individualist I am, being the introvert I am, would like to just find my own personal lesson in the story of the Good Samaritan and apply it to my own personal life without thinking too hard about what it might mean for society as a whole. And there’s something to be said for applying the Bible to your personal situation. Obviously we should.
But the pope here, and Catholic social teaching for decades, has rightly applied Christian morality to how our society should function as a whole. If it’s true that we should help the man robbed on the side of the road, then we as a society should help indigenous people being robbed of their land and homes by corporate interests. If it’s true that we should give our time and attention to the needs of someone left for dead, then consequently we as a society need to give our time and attention to those left for dead in poverty and starvation in the world. Jesus’ story applies to the man in his time, it applies to us individually, and it applies to the way we function as a global community.
So it seems to me that what Pope Francis is trying to do, just like Jesus did with this lawyer, is leave us without any wiggle room. He’s drawing that line of connection between the ancient teachings of Christ and the real issues our world is facing today, and he’s saying, “Don’t weasel your way out of this. Don’t talk your way our of this. The problems going on in our world today – and they are many – are your problems.”
Now that’s a little overwhelming. I don’t think that means you personally need to fix everything in the world. This is addressed to the worldwide community. And he makes that point in this chapter as well – we never serve alone. But still, the part we play in being Good Samaritans ourselves matters.
Another point Pope Francis makes is the idea that this story really boils the world down to two kinds of people. I thought this was really interesting. As Francis puts it
The distinctions between Judean and Samaritan, priest and merchant, fade into insignificance. Now there are only two kinds of people: those who care for someone who is hurting and those who pass by; those who bend down to help and those who look the other way and hurry off. Here, all our distinctions, labels and masks fall away: it is the moment of truth.Article 70
His statement there echoes what Jesus himself says in Matthew 25 when he described the final judgment. According to Christ’s own words, those who go to Heaven and those who go to Hell in that story are not separated by ethnicity, income, education or anything like that. They are separated by whether or not they gave food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothes to the naked. In other words, they were given Heaven or Hell based on how much tangible love and respect they showed those in need.
Now, I want to put the pause button on this for a bit. If I could step back for a moment from the subject at hand, one criticism (among many) that Catholics I know have is the the criticism that Pope Francis keeps pounding the drum on distinctly progressive social issues: the environment, rank versions of capitalism, and even racism. They think, “Why doesn’t he emphasize abortion? Homosexuality? The liberal agenda? And how bad these things are?”
In response to this, first, let me say that people in the world are not oblivious to what the Catholic Church teaches on these issues. When Pope Francis says anything that might possibly sound like he is ok with contraception in certain cases or about how to treat gay people with respect and dignity, the New York Times is like, “Is Pope Francis changing Catholic teaching?” Why do they say that? Because they know what Catholic teaching is when it comes to contraception and homosexuality. They get it.
But more to the point, God is much more preoccupied with how we treat people than he is with whether or not we understand the fine points of theology. Matthew 25 is proof of that.Yes, understanding the Catholic faith accurately and defending it is important. Absolutely. But how sad is it going to be if so many of us who are hard-core Catholics come to Jesus in the final judgement, and he says, in an updated 2020 version of Matthew 25, “What did you do about human trafficking? How did you help the poor among you? Which food bank were you supporting in your time on earth? What did you do with the power and privilege you had?”
If all we’ve got in response is, “I put up a few prayer chain memes on Facebook,” we are toast. Pope Francis’ main goal in this encyclical is to help foster greater friendship and fraternity in the world, yes, but he is also trying to save our souls. If we believe what Jesus says, then caring and doing something about social issues is part and parcel of living a holy life that will usher us into Heaven.
Those are my thoughts, but what are yours? If you disagree or have something you’d like to add, I’d love to know over at catholicanonymous.blog
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I hope all of you listening have a wonderful week. Happy Thanksgiving, and God bless.
©2020 Catholic Anonymous
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