A couple weekends ago the Gospel reading at Mass was from Chapter 10 of Luke, where Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan. In this story Jesus tells us to love our neighbors. When asked “Who is my neighbor?” he tells the story of a man who was robbed, beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. A priest and a Levite walk right by without helping him, but a kind Samaritan man gives him assistance.
I didn’t spend a whole lot of time pondering the reading since the message is so straightforward. Good point, I agree that it’s horrible that the priest and the Levite didn’t help the man, not much more to say. Though I didn’t consciously think through it, in the back of my mind I’d categorized the characters who walked by the ailing man as entirely different from myself — I might not be a saint, but I’m certainly not a “bad person” like these fictional characters. I’d never do anything like that!
So it piqued my interest when our priest said in his homily that he imagines that these two men were not really bad people, that they were perhaps like a lot of us. How on earth could that be?, I wondered. Certainly I would never be so callous, and I assume the same could be said for the majority of my fellow parishioners here.
“How could these two men walk right by someone in need of help?” Our priest asked. And when he gave his answer, it was as if he was speaking to me personally. “Maybe they were busy.”
Maybe they were busy.
Oooooh, boy. I think I might have physically gasped a little bit when I heard that. That one statement brought to the surface something I’d been thinking about — or, really, trying not to think about — a lot lately: how very often I use “I’m too busy” as an excuse for not making my stated priorities my actual priorities.
And it also made the characters of the priest and the Levite seem a whole lot more familiar. Instead of imagining them as these nearly inhuman figures who walked by the injured man with a shrug or a “Who cares?”, I could now practically hear their internal dialogue verbatim: “Poor guy! Ya know, I’d really like to give him a hand but I’m already late for that meeting in Jericho, and I have a million things on my plate today. This is a busy road, I’m sure someone else will come along and help him. I’ll keep him in my prayers.”
Here in suburbia we don’t have a lot of dying people lying on the streets, so I’ve never been faced with that actual situation. But I am constantly faced with situations of the same type, to varying degrees of severity; opportunities to do what I know is the right thing, what I give lip service to being very important to me, and yet I walk right by on the grounds that I just have too much to do. Why don’t I visit my grandfather more often, pray the rosary regularly, go to daily Mass sometimes, keep in closer contact with my friends, call my dad more regularly, make time for daily prayer, or all the other things I claim are top priorities? I’m “too busy”.
Like all good lies, it’s based on truth — I really am busy. I do have a lot on my plate. I honestly don’t have time to do it all, to undertake every charitable act that comes to mind, to pray for hours each day, etc. But yet, I’ve allowed “I’m too busy” to become a sort of mantra, a plausible sounding knee-jerk reaction to gloss over those times when I’m just too lazy or too tired or too distracted or too stuck in a rut to do the right thing.
And hearing the story Our Lord told so long ago, realizing that these men were probably not unlike me at all, that they were probably just people overwhelmed by their to-do lists and running late for somewhere they needed to be, and seeing from an outside perspective the horrible mistake they made by walking by the man in need, makes me wonder how many times I’ve done the same thing. Could anything they had going on possibly be more important than lending a hand to that poor man on the side of the road? Doubt it. And I turn the question to myself: next time I casually blow off an opportunity to help someone in need, or just give a friendly phone call to a loved one, or to grow closer to God, on the grounds that “I’m too busy”, I should think of this parable, and remember that the priest and the Levite were busy too.
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