By Derek Scalia
I recently read an article in the local paper about officials calling for a public forum to discuss the opioid epidemic. The news of this epidemic has consumed regional headlines for some time now. The impacts of heroin are devastating not only to the individual, their family and friends, but also to the community. What role do we play in addressing this epidemic? What responsibilities do we have as Christians?
Jesus was once asked how we inherit eternal life. His response was that of the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37). I am sure that we are all well aware of this parable. The story of a person that was robbed, beaten and left for dead being passed by until the Good Samaritan comes to his assistance. This parable is a reminder of our need to live with great compassion and the necessity to act upon our responsibilities. The road to Jericho has been said to be dangerous. Not a path that one took for a leisurely walk or to contemplate. It was a roadway in life, not avoidable, and therefore a marker to understand our own road to Jericho today.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan defines who our neighbor is and the need to meet and act with great compassion. When we think of those that we have compassion for, it is often with qualifying measures. We help those that help themselves. We often place judgement on those that we perceive to have caused their problems, or who appear to have no interest in changing their current situation. However, we are not called to assess situations and determine who is worthy of our compassion. We are called to act in accordance to their needs. When the Good Samaritan found the man half dead, he did not ask how this happened or what might have provoked the situation. He saw a person, to whom he saw as his neighbor, and cared for him. His compassion did not stop at the dressing of his wounds, but continued until the man was nursed back to health.
We are often unaware of what troubles one has encountered that has left them in need upon the road to Jericho. We have preoccupied ourselves with the idea that the backstory is important to judge who is worthy. That compassion is only for those that we deem to be innocent victims to the tragedies in life’s journey. In doing so, we run the risk of becoming like the others on the road, and step over the suffering and go on our way. We may feel pity for their suffering, as I am sure that the others may have felt as they stepped over him. Pity never serves justice.
I have seen the devastation of heroin. A number of years ago I lost a close family friend to this horrific drug. Danny’s story is different than others as he had a great network of support. He had access to drug treatment, and at times was able to achieve periods of sobriety. However, drug addiction is complex and the path to living a sober life is not always linear. Just two days prior to his overdose, Danny wrote in his journal that he finally thought that he was able to “kick the habit” and to live a drug free life. I see Danny in every story I hear about the opioid epidemic. He is a reminder of the complexity of this horrific situation. He is my neighbor, as are all others impacted by this drug.
As we walk the road to Jericho, who will we see? More importantly, how will we act?