And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.”
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed mercy on him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:25-37, RSV).
When I began work at Y2Y, a student-run young adult homeless shelter in Harvard Square, my vision of service was one-sided: I was offering a small yet meaningful part of my time and resources to serve my brothers and sisters experiencing homelessness. I was compelled by the message of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan: act toward others as the Samaritan acted to the person who was robbed. The Samaritan, despised by the Jews, is the one who shows mercy to the presumably Jewish victim. Jesus’ answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?” is the one who is robbed, poor, lying in the ditch.
Church Fathers such as Ambrose and Augustine of Hippo interpret this passage allegorically. Christ is the Samaritan, and Adam is in the ditch1. Children of Adam and Eve, we are robbed of our purity, our once-exalted state, and our prelapsarian home. As the parable of the shepherd and sheep illustrates that we are lost sheep, the parable of the Good Samaritan reveals that we are in the ditch. In order to be saved by Christ, we must first see our robbed and beaten state.
Part of my responsibilities at Y2Y was to connect guests with Boston area resources in order to find employment and housing opportunities. As I checked in with a guest who I had seen at the shelter over the past year-and-a-half, I started my regular routine of rifling through housing forms to see where he could apply. After looking at applications without success for half-an-hour, I asked if there was anything he was looking forward to. He smiled and said that he was planning to return to college to play music at one of New England’s prestigious conservatories after having left a few years ago, battling drug addiction and trying to return to his feet. I was momentarily shocked at my ignorance and at the amazingly talented musician sitting with me. The implicit assumptions that I held in order to distance myself as an accomplished Harvard student from the young unhoused person in front of me crumbled. We talked about jazz, classical music, and the joys of playing different instruments, and he taught me about music theory and shared the difficulties of being a musician without stable housing.
The Gospels show us that Christ lived as the poor and afflicted, born in a stable and dying on the Cross. Building on this Gospel truth, the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium, notes that the image of Christ is especially present in the poor and afflicted2. If Christ is the Samaritan, and the poor and afflicted reveal the face of Christ, then the poor and afflicted are also the Samaritan. In my work with the unhoused, I am not only the Samaritan who helps heal the victim in the ditch. The unhoused are the Samaritans who help me recognize the ditch that I am in and who help heal me. My conversation with the young unhoused musician helped me begin to emerge from the ditch that I reside in: the ditch of stigma, of isolation, of impoverished privilege, of unreflective professionalism and individualism. The young people at Y2Y have been like the Samaritan to me, helping me to uncover and discover my own humanity and the solidarity that is an integral part of being human.
TJ Dulac is a senior in Currier House studying Comparative Religions.