Suzanne Shanahan
Leo and Arlene Hawk Executive Director
Center for Social Concerns

As an experienced migration and refugee policy teacher, I have long appreciated this parable’s clear call to social action. With more than 95 million people forcibly displaced from homes worldwide, I have been continually perplexed by individuals, communities, companies, and countries who ignore this human tragedy, whether far away or in their backyard.

Writing in the post-World War II era, political theorist Hannah Arendt bemoaned that most evil in the world is done by those who never make up their mind to be either good or evil, for failing to respond is an evil of its own.

Choosing compassion sounds good but is, of course, much harder to execute. At some point, we assume every role featured in today’s parable—the one injured, the one who passes by, or the one who stops to care.

There is a classic behavioral psychology experiment in which seminarians are asked to prepare a sermon on the Good Samaritan on short notice. As they rush to deliver their sermons, they pass an injured person. Most do not stop or even slow down.

Did they see the suffering and choose to ignore it? Did they see it but understand the higher purpose of their work? Were they too caught up in themselves to see at all? How often do we rush past others in need? How often do we avert our gaze so their dignity doesn’t implore us to act?

My work with refugees internationally and newcomers locally has taught me that social action and responding to the stranger are first and foremost about relationships that push us to give and receive in ways that may be uncomfortable.

Relationships are a source of wonder, grace, and joy. They offer transcendent possibilities but also create obligations, responsibilities, and ongoing encumbrances.

The Good Samaritan didn’t just send for help. He took direct, intimate action. He dressed and treated the stranger’s wounds and made arrangements for his ongoing care. He created a connection, a relationship that was not merely transactional or fleeting. It was inconvenient, disruptive, time-consuming, and messy.

But those are the kinds of relationships Jesus is inviting us to undertake.