HOMILY FOR THE FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C (JULY 10)
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and pastor of St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
This week and next we have two stories, each of which proves that it is hard to pin down Jesus. We often hear people saw that because Jesus said such and such a thing, that that is what he wants for all of us. But listen carefully both to the story this week of the lawyer and Jesus, and next week to Mary and Martha and Jesus. What is said is not actually contradictory but it shows that Jesus is very careful to look at the situation and make recommendations for the individual.
First, this week, we have the lawyer to look at.
This story is a conversation between Jesus and a young lawyer who studies Jewish law. We are told from the start that the movie of the lawyer is not a good one. he already knows the answer to the question he poses to Jesus. And Jesus knows that he knows. Jesus throws back the question to the lawyer: “You’re a lawyer. What does the Law say about inheriting eternal life?” You might also note that in Luke’s version of the story the question is different from Matthew and Mark where the question is “What is the greatest commandment?”
In any case, the lawyer quotes Deuteronomy, the reading we had in our First Reading today, for the first part and Leviticus for the second, perhaps showing that Jesus was not the first to put together these two concepts of love of God and neighbor. Jesus does congratulate him for knowing the right answer, but he doesn’t stop there. He knows that the lawyer is testing him, so he tells the lawyer: You are right, now go out and live it it. In other words, take action on it.
I want you to remember these words: “Do this and you shall live,” because we will hear a different answer next week in the story of Mary and Martha. “Doing” may be just one side of the coin.
The young lawyer is not content to take this advice, but tests Jesus even further by asking Jesus to interpret the word “neighbor.” Just to ask that question implies that there may be some people who are not neighbors and others who are. That was, in fact, the case in some Jewish thinking. Neighbors or people who lived near you or next to you, were usually relatives in those times. Today, probably because of our interpretations of the stories of Jesus, we see neighbor as much, much wider, in fact, encompassing all men and women.
So the parable Jesus tells of the Good Samaritan is meant to answer the question of the lawyer, and closes by asking the lawyer, “Who was the neighbor?”, again leaving the lawyer to answer his own question.
By this point I know we are all very familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan though it would not have the impact today that it had in Jesus’ time. Samaritans were really despised by the Jews because they were a mixed race who stayed in Assyria after they were captured, who fought against the building of the Temple and, in fact, built their own place of worship on Mount Gerizim. Thus they were heretics, unclean and rejected. What might be comparable today? A Muslim? A Mexican? a disliked politician? None of those really work for all of us today, and perhaps we have nothing comparable.
In any case, we know that the Samaritans were the polar opposite of the lawyer himself, and the priest and the Levite. In the story Jesus tells, the priest and the Levite were respected members of Jesus’ society. They may have had very good reasons for passing by the bloody stranger. If they helped, they would have been defiled and would not have been able to carry out their duties. I don’t think jesus was painting them as totally uncaring or bad. They are, in fact, us! We need to identify with them for the story to shock us.
The Samaritan goes to great trouble to help this damaged stranger. He uses his financial resources, he takes time away from what he was on his way to do, he uses up his own resources to help.
So the question that the lawyer is asked: Which one was a neighbor to the one robbed? is obviously a pointed one. The lawyer recognized that it was the mercy of the Samaritan that made the two men neighbors, and it had nothing to do with race or religion or anything else beside compassion and mercy.
When the lawyer answers correctly, Jesus simply says again: “Go and do likewise.” Go out and take action. And that statement has given many over the centuries the spark that was needed to be active in the church, to be a doer. Next week we will examine the other side of that coin.
The short reading from St. Paul today is a hymn to Jesus, and we can see how the early church began to understand Jesus as God, who existed at the beginning, who was the Word who created, and how he holds all things together. Christ, too, according to Paul, was a doer.
This week I would like you to look at the active side of your religion. How do you “do”? What do you “do”. Do you show mercy to others? This has been proclaimed the year of mercy, and certainly the story of the Samaritan gives us a great example of it. But we don’t just do to the few who need help. We need to extend it to all people, for all people are our neighbors. In this global world especially, there are no strangers. There may be people whose customs we don’t understand, whose ways of doing things bother us, whose religions frighten us, whose proclivity to violence appall us. But they are our neighbors, and we must find compassion, mercy and indeed love.
We start, of course, with our “neighbor” around us, but as we mature, we need to extend it further and further. That’s what the Good Samaritan is all about, why it is so shocking both then and now, and why we have to DO something about it.
And this is the very difficult Good News of Jesus to all of us today.