Good morning, everyone. Sorry for my little liturgical faux pas – I forgot to incense the Gospel right after I made the announcement. I think I’m recovering from the fact that yesterday afternoon, I spent in San Francisco going to a coffee shop, and for some strange reason I thought that it made perfect sense for me to get an espresso around 8 p.m. at night, and I think that I’m still kind of trying to figure out how to think straight after that. So, maybe sometimes these things happen like that.
Anyway, one thing I could say about our culture that we live in – and this has really been right in front of my face I think since I’ve moved out here to the Bay Area – is that we live in a culture that is very much valuing what I would call “self-care”, and I think this is in response to a work culture that is so hard-working, that people are trying to figure out ways to take care of themselves when so much is demanded to them at work.
You know, being part of the business school here at Berkeley, I go and I visit lots of these tech industries to see how they actually run themselves with their employees, and they really run their employees to the ground as far as I’m concerned, because they allow so much of their time to be spent at work, because they give them, you know, a nice shuttle to go to work, they give them all the foods they want while they are at work, they’re even given places to take naps at work, that they’ve become slaves to work, so much that there’s zero work-life balance.
So because of this, this rise of the self-care industry seems to be very prevalent, especially here in the Bay Area. And self-care can be in lots of different ways – it can be joining a gym or being part of some Crossfit training group, it could be going to yoga or Pilates, it could be being part of a meditation group, it could be part of a book club group, it could be trying to experiment with different types of diet trying to make sure you order the right type of food. There’s all these different things that are being done here, and I think that you know there are so many books out there for self-help, self-improvement, self-care. All this stuff is out there. There’s a big market and I think that there is a way for us to understand that this idea of self-care can sometimes be treated as an end in itself. Meaning, that it becomes the most important thing that I do is “I take care of myself”, which then ends up turning into being very narcissistic – very individualistic – very much not worrying about what other people think. As long as I’m taking care of myself, all is well.
And I was just thinking about that in light of the Gospel today – of course, the very famous parable “the Good Samaritan”. And we see two people come by this man who was beaten on the side of the road, and they are probably the epitome of self-care. They probably are living the epitome of self-care. A priest and a Levite: now really that’s one in the same. The Levite tribe was the tribe of priests, and this whole idea of the priest and Levite passing by the robber shows that these guys were what we could say institutional Judaism embodied, and they were well-respected. They had already been born into a certain place in society where they didn’t have to really worry about much. All they had to really worry about was making sure that they took care of themselves and if they were to go and touch this bloody man on the side of the road and try to take care of him, that would not be good for their self-care, because they were on the way most likely to go to the Temple to offer sacrifice. But because of different Jewish prescriptions and law, if they had encountered blood, they would not have been ritually pure to offer the sacrifices in the Temple. So in a certain sense, they were doing everything right and making sure that they were maintaining themselves and going into what they had to do in the Temple.
Yet Jesus uses the example of the Samaritan as the one who goes and touches this wounded man and brings healing to him, as the Gospel says this man, the Samaritan man, was moved with compassion. I think it’s very important for us to understand why is it that the Samaritan is highlighted. Now we know that this person who approaches Jesus at the beginning of the story today is a teacher of the law. He seems to be very well schooled in Jewish law. It says here he was a scholar, who was most likely a Pharisee – another part of the institutional realm of Judaism. And what this man does or what this man really challenges is this idea that someone who is not following the law by the book, so to speak, could actually be looked upon as being not a righteous person.
Now people who did not necessarily follow the Book were Samaritans, in the region of Samaria which is north of Jerusalem since, just to kind of visualize this, Jerusalem is kind of almost like in the center of what we understand to be modern-day Israel, so if we were to go north of Jerusalem, it was the area that was originally part of the Northern Kingdom. The Jewish kingdom was split into two. This is like 700-some years before the coming of Christ, and eventually the kingdom’s – both kingdoms – fall, but the Samaritan people during the time of Jesus claim to have a certain type of right of inheritance to the Northern Kingdom, and as such they had certain practices which they thought were very legitimate. And one thing that they said was that where Abraham sacrificed his son way back in the time of Genesis and where are the true Temple should exist, should be on a mountain not based in Jerusalem, but an area where they lived in the northern region known as Samaria.
So they would offer their sacrifices in a temple that was not in Jerusalem, which for the people who were very much considered the righteous Jews, was considered an abomination. There’s only one place to worship God: that is in Jerusalem, which is why we hear of Jesus going to Jerusalem on different occasions. We know that Jesus goes to Jerusalem to die, because he’s there during the time of Passover and all the Jews theoretically in the entire world had to come to Jerusalem to offer up the lamb sacrifice for Passover. So Jerusalem was the hub. But the Samaritans said no, we don’t have to go there. We can do this here in our region, because we have the true spot where the temple should be. Also, the Samaritans were known for intermarriage – meaning that they would marry people who were not purely from the Jewish race.
Now when the kingdom fell – the Northern Kingdom fell, there were the Assyrians and eventually the Babylonians, all these different people came in and start to intermingle with the Jewish people and because of that there was lots of not pure-blood. The Samaritans were known to be part of that strain of impurity. And as such, they also would fuse together different, other rites from other religions at the time. So not only would they worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but they would also worship other gods from other religions. So the Samaritans had a lot going against them – they worshiped in a different place, they intermarried, and they even worshiped other gods. Yet, Jesus props them up as being the ideal in this story. There’s only one thing I can conclude as to why the Samaritan is highlighted this way. Clearly, it’s not because Jesus was trying to say that the Samaritans had it right theologically, or that theology and Judaism was up for grabs and able to do what they want, but because the Samaritan was living essentially a life of isolation, one who was constantly looked upon as being an outsider.
Now rightfully or wrongfully, he still had to contend with the fact that people were against him. The Jewish race was against him, and most likely anyone from the outside or against the Samaritans as well. They were like these people completely with no allies, so in a certain sense they understood what it means to suffer, to go through loneliness, isolation, persecution, and as such I believe that the Samaritan was able to quickly identify with the suffering of the man on the side of the road. And it’s this empathy that moves him to compassion to bring healing. Where the priest and the Levite were concerned with themselves and making sure that they were all good to go to the Temple, the Samaritan pulled from his own experience of knowing what it feels to suffer and was able to empathize in a spirit of solidarity with the person on the side of the road.
Yet, the question I think for our modern times is what are we to make of ultimately self-care. What are we to make in a certain sense of this priest and Levite we’re really doing what they were supposed to do. Clearly, the Samaritan also understood something about self-care – what we could modernly call self-care – because he had means to help, right? From this he had bandages, he had oil, he had wine, he had money. So in some sense he was taking care of himself enough to have things, but he understood that whatever he was able to acquire was meant to be given to others. His understanding of self-care was that it was a means, not an end.
And this is often reminded to me so clearly whenever you have to head on an airplane – in fact, I have to go to airplane later this week. Now I know for many of us, we fly off, and we just kind of ignore the people telling us about how to, like, survive a crash in the ocean, but they always say that you know when those oxygen masks come down, right, what are you to do: you are to put the one on yours first before you help someone else. You don’t put the mask on yourself first and just sit there – you put the mask on yourself first so that gives you the freedom and the ability to help the people around you. That is the beauty and the need for self-care in our lives. It’s what the Samaritan understood, but it’s not what the priest and Levite got.
Many people will complain that they don’t go to church because they don’t get anything out of it. In a certain sense, they’re looking for self-care. They’re looking to see that if they go and spend the time for an hour on a Sunday, that they’re going to get something from it which will make them in some sense feel better about themselves. Now, sometimes that happens. It may happen if there’s a very good beautiful experience of music, liturgy, preaching. But for many of us, we will walk away from Mass not necessary feeling the same type of exhilarance, say if we just work out for an hour in the gym. We won’t feel as if we actually did something that really radically transformed us to get us all ready for the rest of the week. Yet, the reason why we come to Mass every Sunday, sometimes even at the same time in the same building at times, is because we enter into a place of knowing that what we are suffering is in solidarity with the suffering of our brothers and sisters sitting next to us.
We walk into a church and we see pews. And who sits in these pews? People with their own brokenness, pains, sufferings. Just as the Samaritans felt isolation and oppression, people in these pews feel isolation and oppression. Just as the robber went through just the injustice of having things taken from him, people in these pews have had things taken from them unjustly. Just as the robber physically was bleeding on the side of the road, people in these pews also deal with physical ailments.
Yeah we come to the beginning of the Mass and we asked for us to be forgiven of our sins, simply because we know that each one of us have something that we’ve done wrong, and we also know that we have also been wrong by others. And I would argue that it’s this solidarity in sin, if you will, at the beginning of Mass that prepares us to receive the broken Eucharist, the broken Body of Christ. Because when our brokenness is made aware and when we are just aware of the brokenness of the people sitting around us, that’s when we are ready to be healed with the Brokenness of Jesus. And once you receive the broken Christ, we then are able to be Good Samaritans to those around us, because we bring to that person not just our own brokenness but the Brokenness of Jesus, and the Brokenness of Jesus is what heals. It heals because that is the sure sign that Resurrection is to come.
So today, let’s think about our self-care, what are we doing for ourselves, but ask ourselves more deeply, how is our self-care ultimately at the service of others. Because just like the Good Samaritan, he was able to recognize that only by giving of himself was he able to enter into the wounds of another, and together with this man on the side of the road able to come to a place of healing and ultimately acceptance by God.
May God bless you all today.