15th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Holy Family Parish, Randallstown
July 14, 2019
A Special Word of Thanks
I am happy to return to Holy Family Parish and to thank all of you for your prayers and for your efforts to revitalize your community of faith, under the wonderful guidance and leadership of your pastor, Fr. Ray Harris. Let’s express our heartfelt gratitude to Fr. Ray!
What Must I Do?
Dear friends: In today’s Gospel, a scholar of the Law of Moses tested Jesus by asking him a question that preoccupied many teachers of the Law—and it was this: “What must I do to inherit everlasting life?” Jesus responded by asking the scholar how he would answer his own question. The scholar replied correctly by quoting Scripture passages that Jews recite daily as part of their morning and evening prayer: “You shall love the Lord your God, with all you heart, with all you soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Love of God and neighbor is indeed the fulfillment of the Law (cf. Mt. 22:36-40; Gal. 5:14; Rom. 13:8-10).
But really to understand the scholar’s response, we have to keep two things in mind:
First is that we are incapable, solely on our own, of loving God and neighbor. We can love God only because God first loved us, a truth that is taught and celebrated throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. They show us the many ways God manifested his love for his people: by revealing himself to them through his powerful word and spirit, by giving them the Law and the Prophets, by showing mercy when they went astray, and by working signs and wonders in their midst throughout history. It was because God loved his people first that they could love him in return and extend that love, not only to their relatives and friends, but also to strangers, orphans, the poor, and the sick.
Second is that Jesus embodied God’s love for his people and for all humanity. In our 2nd reading, St. Paul addresses Jesus as “the image of the invisible God”, as the One through whom all things were made, as the One in whom ‘the fullness of God’s love dwelt,’ as the One who came to make “peace by the blood of his Cross” (Cf. Colossians). In a word, Jesus perfectly reflected and personified the Father’s merciful love a love he fully unleashed in the world by his saving Death and Resurrection, a love that is ‘poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit’ (Rom. 5:5).
So, the first question that should preoccupy us is not what we must do to inherit everlasting life. Rather, the true starting point is God’s love for his people and for each of us, and the question we must face is whether or not we are willing to accept his love. Indeed, loving God and neighbor truly becomes possible when, as Mother Teresa once said, we “give God permission” – that is to say – when we allow God to enter our busy and distracted lives so as to love us and to heal us.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
And this is key to our understanding rightly the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the story Jesus told to illustrate what it means to love and to care for our neighbor; the story in which Jesus expands the definition of who our neighbor is. As we listen to this parable, we are filled with admiration for the Samaritan. Even though he was an outsider, it was he, not the priest or Levite, who took care of the man on the roadside who had been beaten and robbed. We’d all like to think that we are like that; we’d all like to be that kind of person who would stop and help a friend, an enemy, or a stranger who is in trouble, not merely by calling 911, but by generously tending to that person in time of trouble.
But sadly, we may find that sometimes we are not very Good Samaritans. We may avoid the glance of a homeless person on the street. We may fear that person will ask us for money or harm us . . . and we may even cross the street to avoid the encounter. We may find ourselves resenting immigrants, heedless of their plight. So too we may avoid talking to a person who is troubled or elderly, because we fear it would be awkward . . . this list could go on and on. Like the priest and the Levite, we may hurry along our way. After all, we need to get on with our day; we need go about our business. . . . If indeed you and I were to find this tendency in our daily lives, how then should we apply the parable of the Good Samaritan to ourselves? Should we still think of ourself as a prime candidate to be a Good Samaritan? Or should we simply chastise ourselves for being like the priest or the Levite? Or, rather, should we not think of ourselves as the one who needs help? Should we not allow ourselves to be identified as the person who is lying on the road, half-dead?
I would indeed suggest that before all else, we put ourselves in place of the victim, so that we may understand who the Good Samaritan really is – It’s not really us, but the Lord Jesus Christ, whose heart is full of mercy. Isn’t it Lord Jesus who picks up when we lose our way and are injured? When we are beaten down because of our sins and robbed of God’s grace? It is Jesus who speaks to us words of spirit and life, words of mercy and forgiveness; Jesus who, through the Sacraments, cleanses the wounds of our existence and pours into them the healing and soothing balm of his Father’s mercy. It is Jesus who hoists us, not on a beast of burden, but on his own shoulders, and brings us to the shelter of his Church of which he is the head, the Church famously described by Pope Francis as “a field hospital”. In a word, Jesus Christ is the prototype of the Good Samaritan who loves us back to life and health, if we but give him permission!
“Go and Do Likewise”
When, in the Holy Spirit, we give Jesus access to our inmost self, especially by an examination of conscience and by a heartfelt confession of our sins, then do we gain the vision and strength we need to live the Law of Love. When we allow the Holy Spirit to flood our minds and hearts with God’s love, then our eyes are opened to the neighbor who needs our help, our limbs are strengthened so that we can go in our neighbor’s direction, our spirits are liberated so that we can speak words of comfort to our neighbor, our hands are untied so that we can bind up the wounds of the suffering persons we meet along the pathways of our lives.
When the Spirit of the Lord is truly at work in us, we more easily recognize those who need our help as our neighbors. It might be a spouse, a son or daughter, a relative, friend, or co-worker. It might be a homeless person on the street or an immigrant. It might be a fellow parishioner or someone who turned to the Church for help. But it could also be an enemy, someone who has treated us unfairly or unjustly; or it could be a perfect stranger, a person whose life is very different from ours, a person who, in our limited vision, we might regard as hopeless. Just as the Lord never gives up on us, so too we must never give up on those in our path in need of our help.
We need not look far to see how we can be “Good Samaritans” – the need for us to share the Lord’s love with others is all around us. As we enter upon a new week, filled both with routine and with challenges, may we find the grace, right here in the Eucharist, to show our love to God by offering our love and kindness to those around us. And may God bless us and keep us always in his love!