15th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)
First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:10-14 Second Reading: Colossians 1:15-20 Gospel Reading: Luke 10:25-37
Today is the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time and we continue reflecting upon the theme of Christian discipleship. As a matter of fact, the Gospel Reading of today from St. Luke underlines a very important element of Christian discipleship, viz. 'LOVE OF GOD AND LOVE OF NEIGHBOR.'
'The parable of the Good Samaritan,' which we hear today, delineates the Christian exigency of active service, and helps depict an image of Christian discipleship as love of Jesus present in our neighbor. Indeed, Christian discipleship is not a matter of intellectual knowledge, but of unmitigated love of Jesus as concretely expressed in service and compassionate acts to our brothers and sisters in need.
THE GOOD SAMARITAN:
The gospel message starts with the introduction of the Jewish lawyer who comes to Jesus and poses the question regarding eternal life in order to disconcert Jesus: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The question 'What must I do?' was the lawyer’s first attempt to throw dust in his own eyes, for the answer was: ‘You know the commandments, do you not?' To this the scholar replies as every good Jew would have responded to the question – 'We are to love God with all our hearts, strength, mind and being and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.' When acknowledged & affirmed by Jesus, as if that was not enough, in his second attempt the scholar made a fool of himself. And in order to recover from this, because Jesus had made his poorly motivated question seem so easy, he pretended to be trying to get to a deeper understanding. But, really hoping Jesus would hang himself, he further raised the crucial and politically colored question: “And who is my neighbor?”
Now, in each of the cases in the Scripture where Jesus is being tested by someone, he manages to get the better of that person very subtly. So also in this case. And he does it through the parable he tells. The answer that the scholar is expecting, because of course, he knows the answer, is that one’s neighbors are his kith & kin, his relatives, and also those who live in close proximity. But Jesus extends this understanding. He does not only extend it, but he subverts it and turns it around. And so, a great story teller that Jesus is, he tells one of the greatest, most beautiful and powerful stories ever told – The parable of the good Samaritan.
Jesus refuses to answer the question - “And who is my neighbor?” in terms of identifying boundaries which separate neighbors from non-neighbors, whether these boundaries are defined by faith, national identity or special election by God. Instead, the parable of the Good Samaritan is a concrete illustration of the universal dimension of God's plan of salvation and the extension of his grace to the whole world, a major theme for the Evangelist Luke. The word 'neighbor' is usually referred to the person who lives or works next door to us. However, in today’s gospel, Jesus defined who our neighbor is in the context of our Christian faith. The parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that the concept of 'neighbor' is not a matter of blood bonds, nationality, or religious communion. There is no theoretical definition of neighbor or practical limits to those whom we could consider a neighbor. Our 'neighbor' is the one to whom we draw near because he or she is in need of our help and evokes our compassion. The new definition of neighbor is 'one who loves.'
However, there is another important point that Jesus wants to tell us in the story. The badly beaten man was a Jew. Two other people, who were also Jews, one a priest and the other a Levite, saw the injured victim and chose to pass him by. They did nothing and ignored his plight. A badly injured Jew left to die on the road, and ignored by his fellow Jews! Instead a passing Samaritan , supposedly hated by the Jews, came to the rescue of an injured Jew.
We can say that this Samaritan could love those who hated him, that he could even risk his own life to treat the victim, and bring him to an inn for further caring, that would cost him his own money. The Samaritan reached out to help and care for that man, because he did not see him as an enemy who would hate him, but a fellow human being who needed compassion and care. Jesus, by telling that story, also intended to remind us of his teaching that we need to love and show mercy toward our enemies.
THE GOOD SAMARITAN PAR EXCELLENCE:
Now, there is also another way to look at this story. The man was so badly beaten up by brigands that he was left almost dead, apparently with serious injuries. When that passing Samaritan saw the pitiable state the victim was in, he was moved with great compassion to help him out by tending his wounds, and bringing him to an inn, where he could rest till he fully recovered. The Samaritan even said to the inn keeper to look after him and that he would be coming back for the man. He gave the inn keeper the understanding that he would bear whatever extra cost that would be incurred. Who is this victim to the Samaritan that he had to make such a great sacrifice ?
When the Communists came to power in China, not a few Christians were arrested and tried for their faith. One was given the opportunity to reveal why he chose Christianity instead of the religion of his ancestors.
I was in a deep pit, he said, sinking in the mire, and helpless to deliver myself. Looking up I saw a shadow at the top, and soon a venerable face looked over the brink and said, “My son, I am Confucius, the father of your country. If you had obeyed my teachings you would never have been here.” And then he passed on with a significant movement of his finger and a cheerless farewell, adding, “If you ever get out of this, remember to obey my teachings.” But alas! That did not save me.
Then Buddha came along, and, looking over the edge of the pit he cried, “My son, just count it all as nothing. Enter into rest. Fold your arms and retire within yourself, and you will find NIRWANA, the peace to which we all are tending.” I cried, “Father Buddha, if you will only help me to get out, I will be glad to do so. I could follow your instructions easily if I were where you are, but how can I rest in this awful place?” But Buddha passed on and left me to my despair.
Then another face appeared. It was the face of a man beaming with kindness, and bearing marks of sorrow. He did not linger a moment, but leaped down to my side, threw his arms around me, lifted me out of the mire, brought me to the solid ground above, then he did not even bid me farewell, but took off my filthy garments, put new robes upon me, and bade me follow him, saying, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” That is why I became a Christian.
As followers of Christ, we can very easily see ourselves in that injured man because we were once dead, badly beaten up by our sins. But, we have been spotted by - 'The Good Samaritan par excellence and our ultimate neighbor, beyond all comparison,' who healed and delivered us from our sins out of his loving mercy and compassion for us. After he healed us, he entrusted us to his inn, which is his Church, for further spiritual caring and nourishment. And, our Samaritan who saved us is none other than Jesus himself, who said that he will be back someday in the future to take us with him to his Kingdom. This is what St. Paul tells the Colossians in today's Second Reading, which is actually a Christological hymn: “God wanted all things to be reconciled through him and for him, everything in heaven and on earth, when he made peace by his death on the cross.”
So, what does this teach us about following Jesus Christ? Do we see a parallel here between what Jesus did for us and the Samaritan in the gospel story? Thank God that we have a Good Samaritan in Jesus who could sacrifice by laying down his life to heal and restore us – giving us life in him. Now, he expects us to do the same for others , which is the point he is getting at in this gospel. Like Jesus, 'The Good Samaritan, par excellence,' we have to follow him in identifying with the needs of others, including strangers, and enemies, showing them the same compassion that God has for each of us.
Surely, we often hear “The parable of the Good Samaritan.” In fact, ‘Good Samaritan' is a frequent expression we use about a person who helps others. We think of a good Samaritan as a moral example of compassion for the needy, and we would like to be like such a person. Today we are called to be a 'Good Samaritan.' But the big question here is - “And who is my neighbor?” It is not only the person or persons who live next door. Whoever has a need is our neighbor to whom we must reach out as followers of Christ. It has nothing to do with the race, color, nationality and status of the other person.
With “The parable of the Good Samaritan,” Jesus brought out the concrete application of 'The commandment of love,' which those different sects recite every Sabbath day, but fail to implement. Many of us think that we can earn God’s favor just by attending Church regularly, observing all days of obligations, devotional events, actively participating in various church activities, and being prayerful. In citing that the priest, a supposedly religious person, who also chose to go by a different way to avoid helping out the injured man, Jesus is pointing out that our being religious and prayerful are not good enough; we have to be as merciful as God is toward our neighbor, who is someone in need. He will want to see us applying actions of mercy toward our fellowmen.
In the First Reading of today from the the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses, in one of his final speeches, tells the people that the Commandment of God is not beyond their power - “No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.” So, with God living in our hearts, applying His commandments on love will be within our strength and is something that will not be too difficult for us to do. God’s Word is accessible to all of us, and can be in our hearts and in our mouth. If we do not have His Word in our hearts, we can remain egocentric, narcissistic and selfish which will be nothing but obstacles to our being sensitive and responding to our neighbors’ needs as the good Samaritan did in the gospel.
Finally, what this means is that Christianity is not only a body of doctrine to believe and recite but a way of life to live out. It is not only in our lips to profess and proclaim; but in our hand to touch and share. The way to eternal life is not merely a mental perception of what is written in the law: 'You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself,' or the ability to verbalize it, but to translate this twofold love command into action. Let us pray then, during this Mass, that God’s Word be in our hearts wherever we are : at home, at our workplace, and even when we are taking on leisure activities to chill ourselves out. Let's not forget to reach out to someone in need right after this Mass, beginning with those in our families. And this is the Good News of today.