A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, 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. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’ Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim? He answered, ‘The one who treated him with mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”
At the end of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells us that if we want to be like the Good Samaritan, we must treat others with mercy. There is a false idea of mercy that is prevalent not only within our culture, but also within the Church.
We hear about mercy often, almost as often as we hear about love. Don’t get me wrong: as a Catholic, I am all about love and mercy. It is truly those words that should define anyone who calls himself Christian. However, the problem lies in failing to define what these words actually mean and how they should be implemented in our lives. Unfortunately, to many people, mercy means being accepting of another person’s sinful behavior and that the “real sin” would be to offend that person with the truth of the Gospel.
The actions of the Good Samaritan were merciful for the very fact that he saw the man’s wounds and did not turn a blind eye to them. True mercy is found not by ignoring our neighbors’ needs, but by offering a remedy to their ailments, just as the Good Samaritan exemplifies. Mercy, like love, is geared toward the actual good of another person, especially the good of his soul. Mercy has nothing to do with being accepting of one’s lifestyle if it is contrary to that person’s salvation.
Most of us do not have a problem extending mercy when it comes to the physical needs of our neighbors. For example, no one is afraid to feed the poor or clothe the naked. The corporal acts of mercy are, for the most part, smiled upon by our culture. However, the spiritual acts of mercy, like admonishing the sinner, are labeled as intolerant or even hateful. Our culture sees mercy as condoning sin, while true mercy frees people from the slavery of sin and death. Mercy is in seeing the wounded soul and offering it a true remedy.
It is sad, but the false identification with mercy has seeped into the Church. Instead of the Church affecting the culture, the culture has affected the Church. If we want to see this reversed, and to see the truths of our faith affecting the culture, then we, as Catholics, must start showing true mercy, especially to those who have not been fortunate enough to hear it.
A while back, I had taken a rebellious teenager, an extended family member of mine, to a Catholic talk on purity. I was hesitant to ask for all the normal reasons, like the fear of rejection and concern over what she and the other family members might think of it. I finally mustered up the courage to ask, and, to my surprise, she came. I will never forget how, after the talk was over, she looked at me and said, “I just wish I would have known this before.” On the one hand, I was ecstatic because her eyes had been opened. The lies had been shattered by the words of mercy, of truth. Yet, at the same time, I was heartbroken that it wasn’t until now that she was hearing it.
It’s a sad reality that many Catholics are like my extended family member. They too have been sold the lies of our culture. It baffles me that, in most Catholic parishes today, nothing is said to help the majority of the laity, who have succumbed to the ideals of the world and are in a state of mortal sin. For example, most Catholics today are contracepting, are fornicating, and far too many have written off issues like sodomy and abortion as perfectly acceptable — not to mention the fact that almost 75% do not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
For a priest or a bishop to ignore the wounded souls of the majority of his sheep can be likened to the priest in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, who saw the man bleeding and left for dead and chose to ignore him. Just think of how many souls might be converted if bishops, priests, and the Catholic laity stopped being afraid and had the courage to be half as vocal as our opponents. Yet we aren’t, because we’re afraid of people not liking us, we’re afraid of offending, and we’re afraid of pushing the nominal Catholics away from the faith completely.
My husband and I recently had to struggle through all these fears when we were asked to attend a family member’s “wedding” who was attempting to marry someone who had been married twice before. We love these two people very much, yet we could not justify going to their ceremony without knowing that the previous marriages or attempts at marriage had been declared null. My biggest concern wasn’t so much what other people would think of us as it was that their newly developed interest in Catholicism would vanish because we were choosing not to attend their ceremony. Before the event took place, my husband and I sat down with them to tell them our concerns and what the Church teaches concerning their relationship. Our conversation went well, but even so, I was worried that we might be the cause of them losing their interest in pursuing Catholicism.
Shortly after my husband and I decided we could not go to the ceremony, I came across the story of the rich man in Mark 10:17–31. After pondering this passage, I realized that even though there was the possibility of this couple losing interest in the Church, it was still our obligation before God to be honest with them about Church teaching and why we could not attend their ceremony. Listen carefully to Jesus’s response after the rich man asks him what he must do to be saved and how the man reacted to it:
“Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, ‘You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in Heaven; then come, follow me.’ At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”
Notice that before Jesus tells the man the truth, it says: “Jesus looking at him, loved him and said to him …” We see here that it was love that caused Jesus to tell this young man something he did not want to hear. The reality of the young man having the freedom to walk away did not stop Jesus from telling him the hard truth about where he was spiritually. Jesus knew that he loved his wealth more than he loved Him and that his love of money was a road block to his salvation. As we can see in the following verse, the man does not accept Jesus’s invitation and chooses love of money over love of God. If we want to show true mercy, we must do as Jesus, love and mercy incarnate, does: extend the cure, even when it might not be accepted.
At the end of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus instructs us to go and show the same kind of mercy as the Good Samaritan had shown to his neighbor. To extend mercy or to be shown mercy in one’s life is not always easy, because it will bear the marks of Christ crucified. Jesus didn’t rise from the dead without being crucified and dying first. God’s mercy is in purifying us to be like Him, and we aren’t going to become like Him if we do not follow in His footsteps. We too must die so that He may live and reign within our souls. This is the greatest act of mercy, and this is the same mercy that we must impart to our neighbors. To do otherwise is not mercy.
The Holy Catholic Church is, in fact, the greatest innkeeper of all time, for she imparts the fullness of truth and gives oil and wine to cleanse, bandage, and heal wounded souls through her sacraments, which impart true mercy. Let’s stop hiding the meaning of mercy and begin extending it to those inside and outside the Church. Let’s be real about who Jesus is and the mercy He desires to give us.
“Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim? He answered, The one who treated him with mercy. Jesus said to him, Go and do likewise.”
Gina Sower is, first and foremost, a wife and mother of seven incredible children. She and her husband run a non-profit called Apologhetti, which stands for apologetics and spaghetti. It involves a monthly spaghetti dinner and apologetics for teens and an annual apologetics camp, where they bring in some of the best known and loved Catholic apologists in the country. It is through her great love for the Church, and through her own personal journey, that she has found much joy in writing about matters concerning the Faith.