The empathy of the Samaritan

Homily 333 – 24th after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
November 11, 2018
Epistle: (221) – Ephesians 2:14-22
Gospel: (53) – Luke 10:25-37

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

In our modern world, we hear the phrase often “If you see something, say something.”

It is a mantra that has developed over the past decade or two designed to instill in us an awareness of personal safety.

But it is by no means new. Jesus speaks of this in the parable of the Good Samaritan, which we hear this morning.

In his version, though, it is not “say something.” It is “do something.” If you see something, do something.

To be clear, this isn’t about personal safety. Nor is it intended for us to take public safety into our own hands.

This is about caring for others. This is about seeing, first and foremost.

We know the golden rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We have a single English work that encapsulates that thought.

Empathy. It is putting ourselves into the situation, and asking what we would like to have done.

And I dare say all of us are willing to do something – if we see. If we see the need.

The Greek is a bit stronger than see – it is “behold.” The same as the angels announcing the birth of the Messiah to the shepherds. It is a message not just to see, but to take note – to observe, to take in.

Most of us prepare for the needs we encounter. Perhaps we tuck some money away, perhaps we prepare bags with food and toiletry items that we keep for those in need.

We give to the little food pantry – which is an excellent way to help – and we give to the Church, so that we can pool our efforts and help more.

But there are so many times when we simply don’t see, don’t behold, the needs around us.

Our society is beset with loneliness, even though we are the most “connected” society ever. Relationships are broken. Children in trouble.

And even when faced with people and needs, we still don’t see. They become to us invisible. Even without any intent on our part. We are so ingrained with getting our points made, our views across, that we ignore or even dismiss what others try to say.

Inadvertently, perhaps, our sense of privilege comes through. We don’t see the need, or hear the concerns, because the person speaking is not of the socioeconomic bracket we are, or of the same race, or of the same gender, or from the same place, or of the same tribe.

Or of the same political party. That one hurts – but we need to be aware of it. I need to be aware of it.

They aren’t like us – and so to us they become invisible. We refuse to see what we are commanded to behold.

There is this sense, perhaps inappropriate, that modern America would look at the man beaten by robbers and not ask “What can I do to help?” but ask “I wonder what this man did to deserve this?”

We’ve lost our ability to be empathetic. Maybe lost is too strong. Maybe “diminished” our ability to be empathetic.

We live in a society where we struggle to be heard in the midst of the cacophony of voices striving for the attention of the masses. Where we see effectiveness in terms of addressing millions, even billions, at once.

But empathy can’t happen on a global scale. Empathy happens on a personal scale. The appeals for famine, for refugee relief, the stuff we see on television asking us to help show individuals. They tell individual stories.

Hoping that we will then be able to find empathy. But I dare to believe they may be part of the cause of the demise of empathy. We are overloaded with the messages.

And we turn them off – either in our head, or literally by turning off the message at the source. We change the channel, or we turn it off.

What Christ calls us to do is not define neighbor in terms of who do I have an obligation to help.

What Christ calls us to do is to be a neighbor – by helping where we see a need. Wherever we see a need.

Certainly we can and should help through prayer. Perhaps we should help through giving.

But the lost element in our modern world is helping that comes through sharing. We can give money and disengage.

Or, we can share – a meal, housing, clothing, access to a shower – we can offer an ear to hear, an eye to see. Please notice, it isn’t always necessary to be a solution. The Samaritan offered some help, as he was able.

But sometimes what is truly needed is to be heard. To be valued. To have dignity as an icon of the living God.

For us just to be there. For us just to connect. To allow the one with the need to experience what it is like to just be heard.

The same way we want to be heard, by others, and by our Lord. That is empathy – that is the greatest commandment.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!