Left to Die in the Desert

by Wesley Cocozello

After telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus asks the Doctor of the Law who he thinks is the true neighbor to the robbed and beaten man. The Doctor of the Law answers: “The one who treated him with mercy.” 

“Go and do likewise,” Jesus instructs him. 

In this parable, Jesus throws out all the conventional definitions of “neighbor:” “neighbor” as someone I live near, “neighbor” as someone I’m friends with, “neighbor” as someone who is like me. It is mercy above all else, it is stopping by the side of the road to help someone in need, that makes one a neighbor of the Gospel. 

This parable illustrates a central commitment of our faith in Jesus. As Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas says in his pastoral letter on migration, “since Jesus announced Good News to the poor, our Church has been called to stand with the suffering.” 

The Gospel of Luke identifying Jesus’ questioner as a “Doctor of the Law” is no accident. It is a telling contrast. Jesus, in the words of Pope Francis, is more concerned with facts than ideas - with the actual lives of the poor and suffering of this world. Poverty and suffering are not legal definitions. They are human ones.  

Bishop Seitz brings Jesus’ challenge to our 21st-century problems with migration. Commenting on years of failed policy, he writes, “law should be at the service of human beings and should ensure the sanctity of all life. Laws that do not respect human dignity and ensure due process must be changed. While respect for rule of law is essential, we recognize that our true ‘citizenship is in heaven.’” 

What Bishop Seitz writes is nothing new. This is in the Gospel. This is in the letters of St. Paul, in the writing of St. Thomas Aquinas, in the testimony of Martin Luther King Jr.  

What would’ve happened if the Samaritan ignored the beaten man, if he had upheld the conventions of hatred or moral purity or legal abidance like the other two passersby? The man would have died in the desert on the side of a road. 

How many neighbors have we left to die in the desert of our day? In our haste to uphold the law, how many suffering people have we ignored and walked past?

***Weekly Reflection on Justice is produced by the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach staff, volunteers, interns, Columban parishioners, Columban Missionaries, and friends of the Columbans. We hope these reflections help to guide you in your own spiritual journey working toward justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.***