As I write this homily from Tagaytay, the four-day National Synodal Consultation convened by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is about to conclude. The national synodal consultation is a gathering of all the bishops and representatives (priests, religious and lay) from all the dioceses for the purpose of looking into the present realities in the Church by listening to everyone, particularly those in the margins, in order to discern where God is leading us in our journey together towards the realization of our mission. Thus, the theme – “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission.”
As you may already know, Pope Francis called for the Synod of Bishops to be celebrated in October 2023 (with Synodality as its theme), but wanted it to be participated by the whole Church at all levels. Thus, began the series of consultations conducted since last year in all the parishes, the basic ecclesial communities (BEC’s) and various sectoral groups. The process continued at the diocesan and regional levels, and this week it reaches the national level. The consultation will further move to the continental level (through the Federations of Episcopal Conferences) and finally to Rome.
The synodal experience has been a great eye-opener to the participants. Among the many realizations derived from the synod is the need for the Church to be more aware of and responsive to the plight of the marginalized or those who are in the peripheries, as Pope Francis refers to them.
Today’s gospel reading aptly describes this particular need in the Church. The parable of the good Samaritan is among the best known and most loved stories of the Bible. It tells of a man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho who fell in the hands of robbers and was left on the road, half-naked and half-dead. A priest passed by who, upon seeing the victim, passed on the opposite side. Later, a Levite appeared in the scene who likewise took the opposite side.
Why didn’t the priest and the Levite stop to help a fellow traveler in need? Were they afraid that touching a man who could be dead would render them impure and unfit for worship? Or was it too much trouble for them, or too risky? Or were they just in a hurry? The parable does not tell.
Finally, a third person came into the picture, a Samaritan traveler. Upon seeing the poor victim, the Samaritan “approached [him], poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn, and cared for him…” Why did the Samaritan go out of his way to help the victim? The parable tells us the reason: “[he] was moved with compassion at the sight.”
Interestingly, both priest and Levite were the religious leaders and ministers of worship in Israel. The parable tells something similar about our own situation in the Church. The victim left by the robbers on the roadside fittingly typifies those who lie in the margins of society, like the poor, the drug addicts, the prisoners, the PWD, the LGBTQ, the unchurched… Often they do not register in the Church’s radar of awareness and attention. They have no place in our consciousness and much less in our ministry. While the Church abounds in ministers for its liturgical services (lectors, commentators, collectors, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, etc), there is barely any ministry or program for the marginalized
The reasons are varied. It can be simple lack of awareness or lack of know-how. Many parishes are at a loss on how to handle the drug problem or how to integrate the LGBTQ in the community. The consultation sadly acknowledges that the Church’s inability to connect to those in the peripheries is also due to a leadership weakened by indifference and arrogance, clericalism and entitlement, and the scandalous lifestyle of some.
We need to be awakened to the plight of the marginalized. More importantly, we need to acquire the compassionate heart of the good Samaritan.
Ironically, the hero of the parable is the Samaritan who is himself a victim of Israel’s prejudice and rejection. In an unexpected twist of events, the antagonist in the story becomes the protagonist. Like the Samaritan, Jesus suffered the same prejudice and rejection from his own people. “He came to his own and his own received him not.” (Jn 1:11) He was associated with sinners and outcasts. He was called Beelzebul.
A theologian once said that all the parables of Jesus are actually about Jesus himself. Clearly in today’s parable, the good Samaritan is Jesus. It is Jesus who picks us, dying on the wayside and stripped of dignity, in order to save us. He pours oil and wine (the sacraments and the Eucharist) on our wounds in order to heal us. He takes us to the inn (the Church) to care for us until he comes back in glory.
Every parable is about Jesus who presents himself as the embodiment of his own teaching. Thus, Jesus concludes his parable of the good Samaritan by saying, “Go and do likewise.”