"GOD IN OUR MIDST - The Good Businessman" -
A reflection on The Good Samaritan
By Gregory F. Augustine Pierce (www.americancatholic.org)
"A man was traveling on a business trip from Jerusalem to Jericho when he came upon someone who had fallen among robbers."
This might have been the opening to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.
Yes, the hero was a Samaritan, perhaps the most hated ethnic group in Israel at the time. And yes, he was a layperson—not a priest or a Levite like the other two travelers on the road. Both of these facts about the main character are important elements of the story, because Jesus was clearly trying to get his listeners to think outside the box.
Remember, this parable was Jesus’ response to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" When the master told a story about a member of a despised minority who was more kind and generous than the Jewish priestly class, he was obviously intending to provoke a reaction in his audience.
But it is also possible that Jesus was using a person in the midst of his daily work to demonstrate what it means to love our neighbor. It doesn’t involve a big stretch to imagine the hero as a businessman. He is traveling on a rough stretch of road, by himself (not with friends or family). He’s got a donkey, and he just happens to be carrying olive oil and wine. He’s also got enough money to pay an innkeeper to take care of the man, and he promises that he will be coming back soon. This certainly sounds like a person on the first leg of a business trip. Perhaps he was actually a dealer in olive oil or wine. Maybe he was a buyer for a clothing chain. Or, he could have been a book publisher like me or a director of human resources for a big corporation like my brother.
Values in the Workplace
In any case, the Good Samaritan was most likely "at work" when he did his "Good Samaritan-ing." That is, he was probably on his job when he was called upon to help someone less fortunate than he was.
Work and the workplace in our culture are given a pretty bum rap. (If you don’t believe me, just read the "Dilbert" comic strip for a few days.) The workplace is most often portrayed as an awful setting where people constantly put others down, where the competitive spirit is exclusively and excessively rewarded, where dog eats dog and only the strong survive. Many assume there is very little time or tolerance in the midst of work for things like compassion or generosity or going out of your way for others as the Samaritan did.
In many ways, work deserves some of the criticism it receives. We often lose our focus on what is truly important in life as we strive to make our jobs or careers successful. We get so preoccupied with the bottom line, the next promotion, getting a leg up that we forget that people are more important than profits, prestige or power. We forget that we are but stewards of the resources we have been given.
Loving Thy Neighbor
The Good Samaritan recognized all that, however, and he did so in the midst of going about his business. He was on the road that morning precisely because he was working at the time, but he kept his perspective even in the midst of the hustle and bustle of his daily work. He ran into somebody who needed assistance. He stopped. He helped to the extent he could, given his time and resources. He then went about his business, returning later to see how things were going.
It is precisely that kind of openness that Jesus is asking of each of us. When asked to identify what he meant by a neighbor, Jesus described a regular guy going about his daily work, who somehow had time to love someone who needed his help.
What did Jesus say about this man? "Go and do the same," he told all of us, no matter what our occupation or profession might be. That good businessman—in the midst of doing his own job and using resources from his own workplace—was Jesus’ example of what "love thy neighbor" looks like.