I remember hearing a story of a priest who went to stay with his niece and her husband. They were a young couple and were big into occult practice, so it was going to be awkward and they were a bit nervous about him staying. But when he came and stayed with them, he never said anything to them about it. He was just very loving and considerate of them both and their needs. They were so moved by this, that it actually brought about their conversion. This story taught me a lot. The power of love and the importance of seeing good in others.
All of us grow up with a lot of prejudice. We aren’t even aware of most of them, but they are there. Before we see ‘people’ we tend to see someone who is English, Irish, Polish, or black, white, Asian, Muslim or Christian. But these are all human categories that we put on people, and even though they may be a way of telling us something about a person, we have a lot of associations with each category which are often negative. If they are Irish, we think they’re probably ok. If they are from somewhere else we will probably be more cautious until we get to know them. But if you take away all the different labels, then first of all you simply have another human being and that is really the only thing that matters. There was a very good movie out a few years ago called Traffic (I think) which was about different people in Los Angeles and how everyone was suspicious of everyone else especially if they were of a different race. It's worth watching.
This kind of prejudice was really brought home to me several years ago visiting two prisoners in Dublin over two years. One was in for a very serious crime, which he deeply regretted. If you were to make a picture of him from the papers, you would write him off as a monster, but as I got to know him I realised that he was one of the most decent guys I’d ever met. I couldn't help thinking that if I had grown up with his circumstances it's quite likely I would have ended up in prison too.
It says in Genesis that ‘God saw all that He had made and indeed it was good.’ God’s creation is basically good and every human being is basically good. The good in them/us may have gotten buried because of the different hurts we have encountered, or because of what we were taught growing up, but there is good in everyone and that goodness is the thing that we must try and tap into in each person.
In this parable of the good Samaritan Jesus was showing the people that there could be good even in someone like a Samaritan. Ironically we now associate the name Samaritan with someone who does good to others, but at the time that Jesus gave this parable it would have been the opposite. The Samaritans were one group of people that the Jewish people really despised. They would have found this impossible to believe. But Jesus in his wisdom used this parable to force them to admit that there could be good even in someone that they were totally prejudiced against.
All the people around us, no matter what they believe, or where they come from, are human beings before they are anything else; ordinary people trying to raise their families and make their way in the world just like the rest of us. Even if they have a totally different understanding of God to ours, or indeed don’t believe in God at all, there is still goodness in them.
Finally, one of the reasons why we keep coming back to the Lord in the mass each week, is not because we have to, but because it is in Jesus that we find the strength to live with and love the people around us. That is where our strength comes from; from Jesus himself. Every time we receive the Eucharist we are renewing our bond with the source of love, the one who is Love itself. Love comes from God, not from us.
So if we want to convince other people about the God we believe in, the best thing we can do is to love them. That will say more than anything else.
I will finish with the words of Saint Francis: Let us go and preach the Gospel, and only if necessary... use words.