I recently heard a story on NPR entitled “The Biology Of Altruism: Good Deeds May Be Rooted In The Brain.” The story discusses “extreme” good Samaritans, like people who donate a kidney to a stranger without asking for money in return. The research concludes that the extreme altruist has a larger, more sensitive amygdalae, a part of the brain that processes emotion, than most people. The story made me wonder what size my amygdale is. Might I be an “extreme” good Samaritan? I’m pretty sure I would not donate my kidney to someone I don’t know. I concluded that I must not be an “extreme” good Samaritan.
In today’s gospel we hear the familiar parable of the good Samaritan. Jesus does not talk about bigger, more sensitive amygdales being required for entrance into eternal life. Instead, he says to love God and your neighbor, and when pushed for more he tells a story in which the hero shows mercy and compassion for his enemy.
I applaud those who do “extreme” altruistic acts. I even envy their courage. I’m also happy that doing small acts with love and mercy are acceptable. “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Today, how can we be more like the Samaritan and show love and mercy to those in need? Can we find an opportunity to be more neighborly, even if we find our neighbor to be difficult?
—Sharron Deax Hanisch earned a Master of Theological Studies degree from the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry (formerly Weston Jesuit School of Theology). She is the mother of four children and a teacher at the School of Lectio Divina, St. Joseph Monastery, Tulsa, OK