“Go and do the same yourself.”


Polling Station by Elliott Stallion on unsplash.com

About 20 years ago, there was a terrible famine in East Africa. I’m sure that anyone over 30 will remember it. When television pictures were shown around the world of thousands of sick and starving men, women and children crowded into refugee camps, there was a global public outcry that, in this day and age, the rest of the world could permit over a million people to starve to death. Many people said: “somebody should do something.” A very few said: “I must do something.”

One of those few was a failed alcoholic drug-addicted Irish former punk-rock singer. His name is of course Bob Geldof and his band, the “Boomtown Rats” had not had a success for many years. But he decided that he needed to do something. So he did the only thing that he really knew how to do. He set up a rock concert. He rang up all his friends in the music business and badgered them into taking part. He called it “Band-Aid” partly because it was what a group of bands were doing to help the problem - partly because he knew that the famine was so great and terrible that what he was doing was like sticking a small bandage over an enormous wound. But he was determined to do the little he could.

Immediately he ran into opposition. People doubted him - his sanity, his sobriety, his financial management - but, more than anything else, they doubted his motives. Why was he doing this?
Was he just trying to get his hands on a lot of money?
Was he simply trying to get publicity for himself?
Was he trying to restart his career as a pop star?
And people were very suspicious and reluctant to help.

Then, on Irish television, they asked a bishop about it. The bishop said this: “I have no idea what Bob Geldof’s motives are and I shall never know them. They are the secrets of his heart and they are between him and his Maker. All I know is that, for whatever reason, he is doing a good thing and I will support him and I will ask everyone in my diocese to do the same.”

I think there is an important truth in that. Whatever people do, we can always second guess their motives. No matter how good any action may be, a negative mind can always find a negative motive for it. A little cynicism can make tabloid journalists of us all. But in truth the only motives we will ever know for sure are our own - and often they are hard enough to be honest about. And one good test of them is whether or not they have compassion – whether or not they have the capacity to feel someone else’s pain. Hear that part of tpday's gospel again:

“But a Samaritan traveller who came upon him was moved with compassion when he saw him.”

It’s not often that I praise bishops twice in one homily, but hear me out. At the time of the last Irish general election, the Catholic bishops of Ireland issued a statement telling the Catholic population how to vote. Not, you understand, who to vote for, but rather just how to vote.

“When you go into the ballot box, take the paper in one hand and a pencil in another.
Then pause for a moment to pray for the Lord’s guidance.
Then call to mind the face of the poorest person you know.
Look into that person’s eyes.
Ask yourself how your decision will affect her or him.
Only after you have done that, make your mark on the paper.”

Because compassion is the difference between the Samaritan, the Priest and the Levite. It is the difference between “somebody must do something” and “I must do something”. And if we can develop the ability to feel someone else’s pain and say not ‘somebody must do something’, but ‘I must do something’, then we will fulfil the Lord’s command.

So Jesus tells us not to worry about why the Samaritan did what he did. Just “go and do the same yourself.”

Paul O'Reilly SJ