Politics, self and drama in our responses to scripture

Chris Hughes, a Catholic priest and member of Church Action on Poverty North East, explores how the parable of the Good Samaritan can suggest different ways for the church to respond to poverty.

Below is an example of how scripture can be looked at in different ways. These three perspectives have come from different reflections, mainly from Pope Francis and Anna Rowlands exploring the same piece of scripture, the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

I want to offer what I call three lenses for exploring the famous passage. My hope is that this will offer a different way of looking at well known scriptures. Ultimately, what matters is not the ‘lens’ that is used but the insights that flow from it.

It will be interesting if others think that these lenses can be used on different scriptures and to know what insights can be gleaned. Of course you may use other ‘lenses’ to look at this or other passages.

Lens 1: the response of ‘political love’ to this story

In chapter 5 of his encyclical Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis makes a distinction between ‘Elicited Love’ – when we are moved by compassion to respond to the immediate needs in front of us –  and ‘Commanded Love’ – when we look at the systemic causes, the structural injustices, the possible response from institutions to change the root causes of the injustices caused by people.

Using the framework from community organising of having conversations with people (one-to-ones), imagine having conversations with all the characters in this story – the victim, the robbers, the Samaritan, the innkeeper, the indifferent clergy. What would be their concerns? What would be the structural causes of the issues experienced? Who would have the power to bring about change, and what would that change be?

Lens 2: identifying yourself in the story

In chapter 2 of Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis, inspired by his Ignatian formation of using your imagination with scripture, invites us to identify with which character we can most relate to. Francis senses that at different times in our lives we can be different characters. Is that your experience? To whom do you relate most at this present time? Are you able to identify with other characters at other times of your life? Who else can we identify in the characters in this story?

Lens 3: drama of salvation

In her theological reflection at the end of her book Towards a  Politics of Communion: Catholic Social Teaching in Dark Times, Anna Rowlands explores how theologians have interpreted the story. One way of seeing this story is playing out the drama of salvation: creation – fall – redemption in Christ – hope of fulfilled glory.

Through this lens, the victim, the violence and the indifference are all manifestations of our fallen world. The Samaritan is the Christ event who shows God does not pass by, but is moved with compassion to respond the needs of a broken humanity. This Christ figure rescues a dying humanity through compassion, showing that violence and indifference will not have the final say. This is our model of the Church’s ministry and mission. This is the source of our hope that we wait to be fulfilled. How does this impact on us and our prophetic and social action?

What insights and relevance arise when we use any of these lenses in the light  the cost of living crisis?

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