Fr. Michael P. Orsi
The parable of the Good Samaritan, which was the Gospel reading at Mass recently, is often seen as a simple contrast between the kindness of an outsider and the hypocrisy of religious leaders.
As everyone recalls, Jesus tells a story in which a temple priest and a Levite (a lesser-ranked clergymen roughly equivalent to a deacon) pass by a fellow Jew who has been beaten by robbers and left for dead. A Samaritan, who is a non-Jew viewed as a heretic, stops to help, and even pays for the victim’s care at an inn.
An element of the story not made explicit in Scripture is that, if the victim had been dead, touching him would render both the priest and the Levite ritually unclean and thus unable to perform their temple duties.
What Jesus is showing us then is not just the importance of kindness. He also wants us to understand that human need overrides rules and ritual demands. This charitable act by a Samaritan, who had no faith relationship with the Jewish victim, demonstrates that people come first.
Another lesson we might draw from the parable is that things aren’t as simple as they might seem. Jumping to the conclusion that the priest and Levite were hardhearted hypocrites ignores their genuine doctrinal concerns. Technically, they were in the right.
Considering broader implications is always a good thing, even in acts of charity. The recent change in economic conditions puts people in actual need who only a few months ago were doing quite well. And these are people on whom our community depends for vital services.
Think of the police, fire, and other emergency personnel, or the school teachers and nurses, all the folks who keep our community going. The shocking rise in gas prices imposes special burdens on many who commute into Naples from other towns and outlying areas.
Think of the stock clerks and checkers who bring us food and other essential goods at area stores. Think of those who serve us in local restaurants and fast-food outlets.
Many people are hurting just now, and there are simple things we can do to provide a helping hand: leaving bigger tips, and passing along store gift cards come to mind.
But certain problems must be addressed in more fundamental and thorough-going ways, and that’s where things get complicated.
For some time there has been an effort to promote construction of lower-cost housing in Naples. This has brought expressions of concern about the impact of changes in the nature of the local housing market. Those concerns are not unreasonable.
The upscale character of the Naples community is part of this area’s appeal. Building and landscaping styles reflect the high level of environmental and aesthetic awareness in this part of Florida. Many people have made huge investments in their homes here, and so are naturally sensitive to anything that might impact property values.
But a community is more than real estate. In fact, it’s primarily people, all kinds of people. And some of the people whose service is most essential are among the hardest hit in this present economy.
We need to consider adjustments to our zoning laws and environmental regulations (where state and federal statutes give us local discretion), to make it practical for those critical service people to live here and be full participants in the life of our community.
There are developers willing and able to create housing that’s attractive and consistent with regional expectations, but scaled down to be more broadly affordable. We should encourage them to do so.
Because people come first.
Note to our readers: This essay is based on a homily delivered by Fr. Orsi. It can be viewed online at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=jK53y2jzkZM
A priest of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, Rev. Michael P. Orsi currently serves as parochial vicar at St. Agnes Parish in Naples, Florida. He is host of “Action for Life TV,” a weekly cable television series devoted to pro-life issues, and his writings appear in numerous publications and online journals. His TV show episodes can be viewed online at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyFbaLqUwPi08aHtlIR9R0g