In this week’s Lectio Divina Bible Study at St. James Mission, we explored the parable of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke 10:25-37.
One thing I’ve noticed again and again in my work with people in the margins is that the spirituality that develops there has a certain practicality to it. For example, I was leading one man through our catechism class and reflecting with him on the meaning of the Apostles’ Creed. When we came to the line: “He will come again”, this person had no interest in abstract theologies of the parousia or the end-times. Instead he said, “Christ comes again in us. Christ puts us on like the white coat that a doctor puts on when she goes out to heal people.” Likewise, another person studying for Confirmation understood the ascension to be a statement about God’s constant presence with us (he said that with Christ, we too are “seated at the right hand of the Father”). Spirituality, for people on the street, is something practical and embodied.
This week’s exploration of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan was no exception to this rule. In many ways, they could relate to Jesus, who spoke of disconnected religious leaders who would rather cross the road than encounter a bleeding, hurting human being. They see in Jesus the impetus to reach out and live as God’s compassionate people in the world. Not much was said about the historical or literary context of the text. Instead, our people were interested in the story itself.
One elderly woman told a story of meeting her neighbor this week. He was looking for some piece of furniture in which he could store his clothes. She didn’t have anything that would fit. But later, as she was walking down the block, she saw a set of shelves that would work perfectly. Unfortunately, as frail as she is, she was unable to drag the item home. Instead, she said that she felt the Lord tell her, “Go this way” around a corner. There was a man standing there who was quite willing to help her drag the shelves upstairs. As it turns out, he was out of work and looking to do odd-jobs around the neighborhood. She paid him some cash, he gave her his card, and the neighbor got a shelf.
This woman became a living parable on Oneida Street. Like the Samaritan, she is a marginalized person living in hostile territory. Also, she went out of her way to embody compassion for a neighbor in need. Finally, she formed an impromptu community of compassion, just like the Samaritan involved the local innkeeper in caring for the robbed man.
This is what an embodied Christian spirituality looks like for the people in our community at St. James Mission. It has little to do with denominational affiliation or theological orientation. Instead, the presence of Christ in our midst becomes most apparent as we commit and celebrate these random acts of kindness in the daily grind of life in Utica, NY.