10 July. 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Theme: The parable of the Good Samaritan answers the question “Who is my neighbour?” It should inspire us to go and do the same ourselves.
1st Reading: Deuteronomy 30:10-14
The commandments are a privilege to God’s chosen people
Moses said to the people: “When you obey the Lord your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.
Second Reading: Colossians1:15-20
A hymn to Christ, head of the Church, universal mediator and redeemer
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-all things have been created through him and for him.
He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Gospel: Luke 10:25-37
The parable of the Good Samaritan
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal lie?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall 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 neighbour as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
The Samaritan Impulse
G. K. Chesterton was a journalist, a poet, a novelist, radio broadcaster, public debater, and theologian. He once wrote that the English secularised culture of his day retained, in spite of everything, values which were deep-rooted in Christianity. One such value must surely be that of the good Samaritan. In fact it was in England that the group called “The Samaritans” originated. The enduring impact of Jesus’ parable of the “Good Samaritan” is all the more extraordinary when we remember that for the Jews the Samaritans were anything but good. Instead they looked on them as being despicable renegades from the Jewish faith. They even accused Jesus himself of being a Samaritan and possessed by a devil (Jn 8:48).
It’s worth considering the significance of the parable for us here and now. Jesus used this story to bring home to us in a dramatic way the most important, the most all-embracing quality he requires of his followers. The importance of the parable lies in its context. It is the answer to a specific question ?” who is my neighbour to whom I must show as much love as to myself? The answer is brought home forcibly to the Jewish lawyer who put the question. Everyone without exception, even such as the despised Samaritan, must be regarded as a neighbour.
We might wonder what the Samaritan had to gain personally from his act of charity. The answer, in material terms, is precisely nothing. The whole point is that love which is really and truly love, is disinterested. Indeed where is the merit in being good only to friends, who will obviously reward you in return, should the need arise? Christian love must embrace everyone. Secondly, if you do not show love to the neighbour whom you see, then no matter what commandments you keep, what ritual sacrifices you join in, as did the priest and Levite in the parable, you become incapable of loving God, whom you cannot see. This is something which St John reiterates again and again. If you want to join in the Eucharistic banquet and receive God’s Son into your heart, then you must first cleanse your heart of all hatred, bitterness, ill-will, because the God we receive in this sacrament is love.
Communicating God’s Law of Love
A strong theme integrating these readings is the primacy of Jesus in the Father’s communication of the law of love. The passage from Deut. 30 is a fine example of how the people of Israel treasured the Mosaic Law, the Torah, as God’s clear and privileged communication of his will. This is a splendid set-up for observing the quantum leap that occurs in Christian consciousness when the post-Easter believers understand the person and the word of Jesus as fulfilling and even supplanting and surpassing the Torah. The gospel text presents a sample of that. Here, as in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:43-48), Jesus begins from, and then deepens profoundly, the Old Testament teaching of love. The Colossian reading ?” with its celebration of Jesus as image of the invisible God, head of the body, the locus of cosmic “fullness,” the reconciler of all ?” this supports the idea of Jesus as God’s most complete communication of himself.
But all this is in the background. Jesus’ teaching itself, the famous parable, will obviously be the centerpiece of any homily this weekend. The best service the preacher can do is to help the worshippers hear the story afresh. The key here is recovering the shock of the identity of the hero, a Samaritan. These people were the outcasts in first-century Palestine. Since they had intermarried with the occupying Assyrians in the 8th century B.C. they were considered a mongrel breed. And because they kept a separate tradition of the Torah and conducted a competing temple worship on Mount Gerizim (see Jn. 4:20-22), theirs was considered a corrupt form of Judaism. (See Sirach 50:25-26 for the traditional Hebrew attitude toward Samaritans.) For a Samaritan, a suspect stranger in Judea, to deal with an injured Jew would have been an act of unexplainable compassion and an unthinkable risk.
Some social analogy may help here. In his Cotton Patch Version of Luke and Acts: Jesus’ Doing and the Happenings, Clarence Jordan sets the scene in southern U.S.A. and retells the story as being about a black man aiding a white victim. Others have compared the situation of the Samaritan carrying the victim to the inn to that of a plains Indian in 1890 riding into a small town with a scalped cowboy on his horse. This catches the element of risk. Another analogy: a pastor working in the Middle East confessed that never once was he even tempted to tell Palestinians a story about a noble Israeli.
The point is to find a social parallel which will bring this story home to one’s own congregation. Note the significant shift between the lawyer’s question (Who is my neighbour?) and Jesus’ question (Which proved neighbour to the victim?). The lawyer wants a definition to comfortably limit his duty. Jesus cuts through word game: our neighbour is any human being in need. How this is specifically to be applied is up to the insight of the homilist and the listeners. Here God’s guiding Torah comes through the person and teaching of Jesus.
Are we really that bad?
Our news media often paint a rather depressing picture of human nature, incurably bent on war, destruction, social and political injustice, and on all types and forms of immorality. That, of course, is what is seen as making news. But it should blind none of us from being more aware in our daily lives of the basic goodness of human nature, and of noting the many selfless and quite unnoticed acts of love and charity. And by being positive about our human nature and its capabilities for good, we become more aware of our own potential to love selflessly. This is what Jesus wants the lawyer to experience. Instead of giving him a definition of “neighbour,” he presents him with the example of a Samaritan who acts not out of a sense of duty or of guilt, but out of kindness and generosity. We can hope that the lawyer was fired with enthusiasm to live in a similar manner.
One could concentrate on the negative elements of the parable, the brigands, the priest and the Levite. But this would be to miss the point, and we end up falling into the trap of the press and the media. The emphasis in the parable is on the positive capabilities of human nature ?” even in people not normally expected to display such characteristics. This too is the overall thrust of Deuteronomy. Quite often, as Christians, we approach this book of the Old Testament with a certain lack of enthusiasm, noting its negative stipulations and its prohibitions. Yet to concentrate on this aspect would again lead to distortion. For Deuteronomy, expressed as a summary of Moses” instructions, is God’s teaching to Israel on how to live a life of love and charity. Deuteronomy repeatedly stresses God’s undying and unchanging love for his people, and from this perspective urges its hearers to respond in kind, They are to live a life of love for God and for their neighbour, defined above all by the trio of the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. These were the people most in need of charity in the community of Israel, and the idea is that, if one is charitable to them, then one is charitable to all without exception.
Sometimes we Christians get impatient with ourselves that we are not always living out the life of love, feeling that the priest and the levite are still within us. Our impatience is stoked up by the commercialised society we live in, always demanding quick results. We are conditioned by advertising techniques: we expect that fast foods will not only be fast but nutritious, and so on. Perfection in love is usually not so instant. It’s well to remember that the guidance in Deuteronomy was given while still on the way to the Promised Land, and that the parable of the Lord is told while the disciples are still making their way with him to Jerusalem. The “journey” element can remind us that love and charity are part of the journey of faith. And, as with many journeys, there are stops and even wrong turnings. It is when we get bogged down at such stages that we lose our sense of direction and our infinite capacity to love.
Go and do likewise!
In order to not be left looking bad in a conversation with Jesus, a teacher of the law ends by asking him: “And who is my neighbor?” It’s the question of someone who only worries about fulfilling the law. He’s interested in knowing whom he ought to love and whom he can exclude from his love. He’s not thinking about people’s suffering. Jesus, who goes about relieving the suffering of those he meets in his path, breaking the law of the Sabbath or rules of purity if they’re lacking in compassion, answers him with a story that provocatively denounces all religious legalism that ignores love for those in need.
On the road down from Jerusalem to Jericho a man has been attacked by bandits. Beaten and robbed of everything, he lies there in the ditch half dead, abandoned to his fate. We don’t know who he is, only that he’s a man; He could be any one of us, any human being taken down by violence, sickness, misery or despair.
Then “by chance” there appears a priest coming down that road. The story indicates that it happens by accident, as if along that road it’s not usual to see a man dedicated to cult in the Temple. His job isn’t to go down to the wounded in the ditches. His place is the temple, and his work is sacred celebrations. When he reaches where the wounded man is, “he sees him, then passes by on the other side”.
The priest’s lack of compassion isn’t just unique to him, since also a temple Levite who’s coming along near the wounded man “does the same”. It’s rather an attitude and a danger that stalks those who dedicate themselves to the world of the sacred: live far from the real world where people struggle, work and suffer. When religion isn’t centered in a God who is a Friend of life and Father of those who suffer, sacred cult can become an experience that distances itself from profane life, keeps itself from direct contact with people’s suffering, and makes us walk without reacting to the wounded people we see along the road. According to Jesus, it’s not the men of cult who can best indicate to us how we ought to treat those who suffer, but rather the people who have heart.
Along the road comes a Samaritan. He doesn’t come from the temple; he doesn’t even belong to the chosen people of Israel. He just goes about dedicated to something so far from sacred as his puny commercial business. But when he sees the wounded man, he doesn’t ask himself if he’s his neighbor or not. He’s moved deep within and does all he can for him. This is the spirit to imitate. That’s why Jesus says to the legalist: “Go and do this yourself!” Whom will we imitate when we meet on our road people beaten down by today’s economic crisis? [José Antonio Pagola]
Not just the people next-door
The question raised in today’s Gospel is never out of date or out of season. It is perfectly natural to think of our neighbours as literally the people next-door, people “like us” as we say. But, that is to stay well within our comfort zone and, as Jesus puts it sharply elsewhere, “even the Gentiles love those who love them.” Far more is demanded, especially in today’s context of spiralling migration, with all its challenges of finance, housing, income, education of the young, work for the able and so forth. While bearing in mind the practical and social consequences, the whole thrust of the Gospel passage is to see my neighbour as any fellow human being in need. [Kieran O’Mahony]
The Deuteronomy reading may not seem as good a lead-in to the Gospel as usual. However, the plain teaching at the centre—”this Law that I enjoin on you today is not beyond your strength or beyond your reach”—shows that the link is indeed very close and challenging. It make a good counterpoint to the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan and can lend energy to our preaching of this parable today. For Kieran’s audio-commentary on this Gospel click here.