Today we have the parable of Good Samaritan. This is not just a story about doing good, but it is about going beyond boundaries. The story elaborates that there are no boundaries to neighbourliness, as love your neighbour as yourself is not about any limits. There are no boundaries in reaching out to the other in need.
Here, I am reminded of the life story of Sindhutai Sapkal. I was fortunate to meet and interact with her a few years ago. She was married off at a very young age and was abandoned by her husband when she was pregnant. She lived on the street and gave birth to her daughter in a cowshed; cut the umbilical cord with a sharp stone. Sindhutai Sapkal started singing and begging in trains and on the streets just to make ends meet. She continued to fight for herself and her daughter’s survival and fearing for their safety she made cemeteries their home. The little she earned by begging she did not keep for herself but started to help other children on the streets. Today she is taking care of hundreds of children who are sheltered in the homes run by her in Maharashtra, India. Her own exclusion from the society and family did not stop her in helping others.
The story of Good Samaritan calls for deep reflections on “What kind of a neighbour am I? How can I become a person of compassion and care, irrespective of my own status and the status of the other?” It confronts directly the sin of exclusion. Exclusion creates in everyone’s psyche the characteristics of subordination, servitude, dependency, unquestioning obedience and vulnerability. This parable is a powerful attack on all forms of prejudice and feelings of superiority.
Many of the ills in our Church today are products of the sin of exclusion. It could be addressed by paying closer attention to the virtue of inclusion. Especially by ending deep rooted patriarchy, misogyny and clericalism which propagate exclusion. The Church in India is reeling under the shock of a bishop being accused of sexually abusing a nun. It was further shocking for many when the accused bishop received visits from his fellow bishops in prison. The complainant nun -- a daughter of the Church, to whom the solidarity and compassion should have been shown by the authorities -- is completely ignored. Even people who are supporting the nuns are intimidated in various ways. The women religious congregations are standing with the powerful or they lack courage to speak up. The exercise of patriarchal domination and control that has a crippling effect on women’s prophetic role and ministry in the Church is appalling. What is more alarming is how deeply this religiously-endorsed patriarchy has seeped into the psyche and behaviour of men and women in the Church.
Another point of reflection here is that of ritual defilement. This man was severely beaten, half-dead, oozing blood and with broken bones and perhaps the priest feared that he had already died. For the clergy of those times ritual purity was so important and the priest refused to reach out to this wounded person fearing defilement. Even in today’s religious context, we put laws and rituals before human beings, whereas it should be used for the well being of the society and for the good of the people; it should be relevant and contextual. The life of the Church, first and foremost, is a perpetual solidarity with the suffering humanity says Bishop Romero.
The Church often works within the frame work of Church laws and rituals, which often the ordinary people do not understand. Whereas Jesus taught us to transform the law as per the signs of the time and to stand in solidarity with the people in need.
In reaching out to the victim, the Samaritan gives up something, loses something, but gains something more important. He might have been poorer in financial terms and troubled in human terms, but he became rich in the sense of his own humanity by this act of generosity.
Compassion is the emotion that links us to those outside ourselves. It is the capacity for outreach. It enables us to go beyond ourselves to the beating pulse of the rest of the world. Compassion then is a dimension of what it means to be fully human says Joan Chittister.
So to whom should I be a compassionate neighbour today? Perhaps that woman who is harassed by the powerful? Perhaps the victims of clergy abuse? Perhaps that community of sisters who are excluded and confined within the four walls, because they decided to stand up against the abuser? Perhaps the woman victim of domestic violence? Perhaps the divorced single mother? There are many more. Do I have the courage to stand by them? Will I choose to be a Good Samaritan to them?
Julie George, SSpS
Sr. Julie George SSpS, who belongs to the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit, is a women’s rights lawyer who has been practicing law for the past 16 years. She holds a Master's Degree in law -- with human rights and family law as her specialization -- as well as a diploma in Canon Law. She began her legal career in 2003 with a Mumbai-based legal aid centre for women. As a response to the growing needs of women victims of domestic violence and other forms of discrimination in 2006, she established an independent practice and has since secured justice for hundreds of women in cases of domestic violence, matrimonial issues, sexual abuse, property rights, and other types of cases. She was the Director of Streevani for the past nine years and currently she heads its legal unit with a team of lawyers working exclusively on women’s legal rights and mostly provides pro bono services to the poor and needy women.
She is also the Co-Convener of the National Lawyers Forum of Religious and Priests, which was initiated by Streevani in 2008 for the empowerment of women religious lawyers, under the title “Pursuit of Justice, a Prophetic Response of Women Religious in India”. One of the objectives of Streevani is to work for justice through the legal profession, both directly and by creating a network of those involved in the ministry. She is part of the programs for the empowerment of women religious and has co-organized three National Consultations on gender justice in the Church. Julie George has presented papers at national and international forums.
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