On the 13th of March 1964, a lady was murdered at Kew Gardens area of Queens, New York while going back to her house from her workplace. Catherine Susan “kitty” Genovese who worked as a manager at Ev’s Eleventh Hour Club was stabbed severally with a knife (in the three successive attacks) and was finally raped by the perpetrator Winston Moseley in the early hours of the day (about 3:15 am).
During the first attack on Miss Genovese she screamed “Oh my God! He stabbed me! Help me! But nobody in the entire apartment building was keen enough to respond to her passionate cry for help from the attacker. It was after a time that Robert Mozer one of the neighbours shouted from his window “Let that girl alone! But that was all. The attacker went into his car drove off and came back after ten minutes and continued the attack on Genovese and conveniently concluded on coming back the third time with a rape. It was when he was done that another neighbour in the apartment building, Karl Ross called the police who rushed Genovese to the hospital though she died before they could reach the Trauma Unit.
Two weeks after the attack precisely on the 27th of March 1964, Martin Gansberg wrote an article in the New York Times with the title “Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder didn’t Call The Police”. The lead story read: For more than half an hour thirty-eight respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens. This article which focused on the callousness and apathy of people who live in big cities generated a lot of discussions in this direction. This even found resonance in social psychology leading to the invention of the Bystander Effect or Genovese Syndrome.
The story of the Good Samaritan, which was actually an answer our Lord Jesus Christ gave to the test question of a lawyer, has a lot of semblance with the response to the attack and murder of Genovese. In the gospel periscope we are told that a lawyer came to Jesus Christ to ask him a question but with the intention of faulting him. His question was “what do I do to inherit eternal life?” This question which was intended to fault our Lord Jesus Christ still remains significant to us in our day and age. To this question our Lord asked him what is written in the law and he answered (correctly) that the law enjoins one to love the Lord God with all of one’s heart, soul, strength and mind and one’s neighbour as oneself; a pointer to the fact that the man knew the answer before asking.
The story did not end there as the fault-finding lawyer went ahead to ask another question when Jesus Christ praised him for his answer and asked him to do what the law commanded and thereof obtain eternal life. His next question opened up the story that preoccupied the gospel of today traditionally known as the story of the Good Samaritan. His question was “who is my neighbour?” and to answer this, our Lord told him this story:
A man was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among robbers who stripped him of all he had, beat him and left him half-dead. By chance a priest was GOING DOWN THE ROAD and when HE SAW HIM he passed by the other side. Likewise a Levite (who works with the priest) CAME TO THE PLACE, SAW THE MAN and passed by the other side. But a Samaritan CAME TO THE PLACE and SAW HIM and HAD COMPASSION, and WENT ON to him and bound up the wound pouring oil and wine on it and set him on his own beast (donkey) and took him to an inn and TOOK CARE OF HIM. Next day he gave the innkeeper two denarii and asked him to take care of the man and that on his return he would pay whatever that is spent in addition. At the end of the story our Lord Jesus Christ asked who proved to be a neighbour to the man found on the way and the lawyer mentioned the Good Samaritan. Five important personalities are involved in the story and we shall take them one after the other.
Our Lord Jesus Christ did not mention the name of the traveller we are told that it was a man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho. Jerusalem means “City of Peace”. Leaving the city of peace the man entered into the region of trouble. Jerusalem is also known as the Holy City where the glory of God dwells (in the temple). The man in question could be said to have departed from divine presence and protection and entered into the trouble region of the evil one. The man had not reached Jericho he was still on his way but he had departed from Jerusalem.
This man who has no name represents all of us sinners who have wandered away from God. Our Lord Jesus Christ warned against this estrangement when he said in John (15:5) “Cut off from me you can do nothing”. Separated from the City of Peace, the region of Holiness, the man entered into trouble; in fact big trouble at that. Like in our story, Genovese leaving the secured environment of her work place drove towards her home but before she could get into her house she fell into the murderous hands of Winston Moseley
B) The Robbers
We don’t need to guess so much as to the resonance of the robbers. The devil and his agents stand for the robbers. We have proof to this as our Lord Jesus Christ told us in the gospel of John (10:10a) that the devil has come to steal and to destroy. St. Peter (1 Pet.5:9) corroborated this stance by indicating that we should be calm and vigilant for our enemy the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour!
The tactics of the devil is clear, to dispossess any unsuspecting person of his or her valuables virtues and blessings. This was exactly what the robbers did. They stripped the man of all he had and beat him to a near death situation. It was actually the grace of God that kept the man still with some life. The killer of Miss Genovese was bent of destroying her finally and after stripping her and taking the $49 dollars on her, he went ahead to rape her to a lifeless situation before disappearing into the still dark early spring morning.
C) The Priest
There was a Jewish regulation at the time that prevented a Priest who is going up to offer sacrifice from having any contact with a dead person or animal which will automatically make him ceremonially unclean. Hence it could be said generally that the Priest seeing the man and presuming him dead passed to the other side of the road. However looking at the situation a little more critically we can see that the Priest was actually coming down from Jerusalem; an indication that he was done with his priestly duties at the temple. In spite of the fact that he was ceremonially free to attend to the man, he still held to the rules of his profession.
The attitude of the Priest is a recast of the Bystander Effect or Genovese Syndrome. The stick-out-the-neck-and-go attitudes most of us have towards those who we know that are genuinely in need. Sometimes we allow our position, background, ranks and similar attributes to prevent us from doing some charity or giving help to those in need. A man saw an accident scene on his way back from his office and while other people were stopping and offering some help he came to the spot and without any qualms of conscience he cursed the drivers for senseless driving only to get home to discover that his only brother was in that accident and later died because he could not be get blood donation immediately like others and the man was in a position to donate blood to his brother if he had stopped.
Very much like the thirty-eight neighbours of Miss Genovese, we are often so much attached to our “little kingdoms” that we find it extremely difficult to look around towards the direction of others even when there is an urgent necessity. Very often most people ignore phone calls, text messages and mails because they don’t want to get involved. However in the dark moments of our own lives we want God and indeed every Tom, Dick and Harry to get involved.
D) The Levite.
The Levite is by definition an auxiliary the Priest and he was also coming down from the Temple in Jerusalem. He came to the point where the traveller was, saw his situation and left. Here we see another stick-out-the-neck-and-go attitude. I see the Levite acting like the man who simply shouted from the window when Miss Genovese was attacked but stooped at that. St. James said that faith without good works is dead (James 2:14-22).
There is another dimension of the approach of the Levite’s oversight. Like we saw above, he is like an assistant to the priest very much like one on the way of becoming a priest. As it is expected he will do what he sees his master doing. Hence since the priest could not stop and assist the dying man he must have felt that it will be inattention to an authority to do what his master did not do. This tells us a lot about following good or bad examples. In that apartment building where Genovese was murdered some people may have looked upon others to react before they could do something and nothing very productive happened. During the investigations one of the neighbours said she did not want to get involved and called another neighbour to call the police; but that was when the attack was concluded.
D) The Good Samaritan
The Samaritan is the hero in the entire story; of course the adjective good attached to him makes the fact clearer. Our Lord Jesus Christ brought him in as a sign of contrast with the preceding character. He is a notably the only outsider in the whole story. The traveller, the Priest and the Levite were all Jews. Jesus was trying to make a point to the lawyer that knowledge of the law without practice is useless. Hence the only dependable expression of one’s knowledge of the law is about putting it into serviceable practice.
In the case of the Samaritan, he came to the point where the traveller was dropped half-dead like the others who came along before him, he saw the man like the Priest and the Levite but unlike them he had COMPASSION on him not pity; he was empathetic not sympathetic. The compassion he showed brought about the peculiarity of his own side of the story. He not only had compassion, he went ahead to attend to him by providing on-the-spot first aid of wine and oil on the wound. He took him on his own donkey to an inn and took care of him and leaving the next day he asked the innkeeper to continue the caregiving job until he returns and would pay for anything more he spends.
When I think of oil and wine my mind runs to the book of Revelation (6:6). There in the vision of St. John during the ravaging famine following the opening of the third seal a voice from among the four living creatures said “do not harm the oil and the wine”. Oil and wine here thus stands for life. Oil is used for anointing like in the case of David (1 Sam.16:13) and wine was significant in the first miracle of Jesus Christ (John 2:1-11) and also during the last supper when the cup of wine at his blessings became his blood (Matt 26:27-29).
The Good Samaritan did not only attend to the wound of the stranger, he also took him on his own donkey (beast of burden) to an inn and took care of him and asked the innkeeper to continue the caregiving. From this point we can begin to think of the Good Samaritan as Jesus Christ himself. The word of God said cast your burden upon the Lord and he will sustain you (Psalm 55:22) and the prophecy of Isaiah (53:4) held that he took the punishment that was ours. He saw us as helpless half dead sinners who had lost the glory of Jerusalem and are in the middle of trouble with wounds from the evil one. While others who came before him could not help us he came to our rescue and brought life to us (John 10:10b). After his salvific work he brought us into an inn which represents the Christian community; the Church with his ministers to attend to us. Remember also that he went further to pay all our bills. This was basically what he did on the cross when he said: “IT IS FINISHED” (John 19:20). This means that we owe nothing again. He did not leave us without provision. Telling the innkeeper that he will pay whatever more that will accrue is a way of telling us that he is with us till the end of time (Matt.28:20).
The two Denarii the Good Samaritan gave to the innkeeper represent the two nature of Christ which he gave completely to us for instance in the Holy Eucharist where we receive his true body and blood soul and divinity.
There are still many wounded people on both our physical, moral and spiritual routes that need our compassionate attention. That brother, sister, friend, colleague, neighbour and so on need you. You can become a Good Samaritan to any person or situation. It is time for us to reflect our Lord Jesus Christ by stopping and stooping down to bandage the wounds of others. It could be a smile, a hug, a text message, a call, a good advice that can make someone to rise up again and begin to live a fresh life. The time for Bystander Effect and Genovese Syndrome is over. Your neighbour would become for you the key to the kingdom of heaven. Remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in the gospel of Matthew (25: 31-46) part of which we put into song like this:
Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers that you do unto me. When I was hungry you gave me to eat, when I was thirsty you gave me to drink, now enter into the home of my father!
I wish you a blissful week ahead.