Christ’s Kingdom of Unleashed Love, 15th Sunday (C), July 10, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Annunciation Convent, Suffern, NY
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
July 10, 2016
Dt 30:10-14, Ps 69, Col 1:15-20, Lk 10:25-37


To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 


The following text guided today’s homily: 

The lawyer in today’s Gospel asks Jesus one of the most important questions a man or woman, a boy or a girl, can: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” What do I have to do, in other words, to get to heaven? We don’t get to heaven simply by being born. We don’t get to heaven simply by being reborn in baptism as a child (unless we also die in that state). We don’t get to heaven by coasting there. It’s a choice, or more precisely, a series of choices, and the most important ones we’ll ever make.

It’s precisely a choice to love.

Jesus questioned the lawyer what he himself thought the answer was to his own question, and the lawyer gave what Jesus admitted was the right response. Putting together two parts of what God had revealed in the Old Testament, the lawyer said that to inherit eternal life we must love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind (Deut 6:5) and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Lev 19:18). On these two commandments, or better, this two-fold commandment, Jesus himself said elsewhere, “hang all the law and the prophets” (Mt 22:40). This two-fold commandment is a summary, in other words, of the entire Old Testament, which is all about God’s love for us and about how he calls us to love each other. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Jesus said, “Do this and you will live.” The whole Old Testament was God’s revelation to help his people enter into life and be prepared through love to embrace “life to the full” (Jn 10:10) when it finally was revealed in the person, words and deeds of Jesus.

But as conceptually simple as Jesus’ answer is, there are obviously some practical considerations — for us and the lawyer — to putting it into practice. There are clearly practical issues involved in loving God not with “some” but with one-hundred percent of our mind, heart, soul and strength, as well as one-hundred percent of our time, talents, and wallets. But the scholar of the law didn’t ask Jesus for help putting that it to practice. Instead, he asked him to make concrete how he was to love his neighbor, by querying, “Who is my neighbor?” We’ve heard Jesus’ answer so many times that to us the answer might seem obvious, but it wasn’t at the time of the lawyer. In fact the question of who is one’s neighbor was one of the most discussed and controversial debates among Israelites. A typical Jew was raised with an attitude to which Jesus referred in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’” (Mt 5:43). Therefore, if one were to love one’s neighbor and detest one’s enemy, it was crucial to determine who was one’s neighbor and who was one’s adversary. Almost all Jews admitted that one’s neighbor extended beyond one’s family or those who lived physically proximate. Most interpreters considered that one’s neighbor included all fellow Israelites and those gentiles who adhered to the Mosaic law. But no one was quite prepared for Jesus’ answer, which he gave in the form of the parable of the Good Samaritan. He basically said that everyone is in our neighborhood — even those considered enemies, as Jews and Samaritans deemed each other.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus stressed that God’s love had no limits and that likewise there be no limit to our love for neighbor. The first point about God’s love is often missed, but the Fathers of the Church (the saintly bishops of the early Church) saw this as the necessary “background” for the proper understanding of the parable. They saw man as that person who had started to go down from the place of God’s dwelling, represented by Jerusalem, to Jericho, literally the lowest place on earth (1000 meters below sea level). His descent was sin. While walking in paradise, man was ambushed by the evil one, who left him at the brink of death because of sin. The priest and the Levite were, respectively, those who even though they knew the law and the prophets, chose to pass the nearly-dead sinner by, so that they would not be contaminated by his sins. Eventually Christ, the Good Samaritan, came. When he beheld this man half dead, he had compassion on him and for all his wounds caused by sin. So, as we read in the parable, “he approached.” Christ approached all the way from heaven, getting so close as to take on our nature, becoming “God-with-us” (Mt 1:23). He poured the oil and wine of his redemptive blood on man’s wounds to heal them. He brought him to the inn, which represents the Church, and gave the inn-keepers (all of us in the Church) the instruction for them to care for the human person until he returned and to help nurse him back from sins to the full health of holiness. The extremely generous two denarii and the promise for more upon his return were the treasure of Christ’s merits, especially the sacraments, which continue the healing process within man. Finally, the reference to his return was an allusion to the second coming, when Jesus will come to repay each of us according to our deeds (Rom 2:6).

The parable of the Good Samaritan, therefore, is first a commentary on God’s love for us and, secondly, a clear illustration of Christ’s statement during the Last Supper, “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). Our love for each other is based not merely on our love for ourselves — “love your neighbor as yourself” — but on God’s love for us. Never in the Gospel did Jesus say, merely, “Do what I say.” He stated time and again, “Come, follow me!” He would set us an example and then tell us to imitate him. That is why Jesus was able to say at the end of the parable, “Go and do the same;” we were to follow his example of love. He was calling us to go out to seek those who have been ambushed by the evil one and left at the point of death in sin, and patiently take them to the Church to nurse them back to health. He was also explicitly calling us to cross the road and approach all those who have been mugged, bruised, beaten, victimized, and abandoned by others in this world and use our donkeys to bring them to safety, use our money to nurse them back to health. In other words, Jesus was giving us marching orders to love others — even those who seem to be our enemies, even those we find most despicable — to the point of sacrificing our lives, our goods, our time for them.

To be a Good Samaritan means to behave like Christ and draw close to those who are in need, close enough to become their neighbor. To live in Christ’s kingdom is to see the whole world as our neighborhood and everyone in need as our neighbor. To be a Christian means to inconvenience ourselves for others, to draw near, to sacrifice. As we seek to learn from what happened in Dallas this week, with the assassination of police officers, we have to recognize that it is the culmination of the fact that some are trained to look at their neighbor as threats and enemies rather than as brothers and sisters, fellow citizens and friends. All violence comes ultimately from treating others as threats rather than with neighborly love. We see this with the culture of death which is opposite to the culture of the Good Samaritan. Women who are in vulnerable pregnancies are abandoned by their husbands, boyfriends, parents, grandparents, siblings, friends rather than supported. Women often don’t become neighbor even to their own flesh and blood growing within them. Those at the end of life, when they’re feeling depressed, as if they’re a burden on their family members, when they feel they’re no longer economically useful, or when they’re in pain, are often tempted toward suicide, and, rather than care for their psychological, spiritual and physical issues as Good Samaritans, many abandon them. Throughout the culture of death, which is at the root of violence in our culture, others are viewed as dangers rather than people in danger, as threats rather than those who need to be treated with love. Christ wants that to change. He’s calling us Christians to be on the forefront in helping to bring about that change. And he’s calling us in a particular way as priests and religious to help catalyze that metamorphosis.

To illustrate that point that he wants all of us to play a role, in today’s parable, he used the image of one of the Jews’ most hated enemies — the Samaritans — to show that we’re supposed to care even for those whom we may not like or who may view us with disdain. If Jesus were to put the parable in contemporary terms, he would say that when someone was dying on the streets of Manhattan, doctors, nurses, EMTs, police officers, firefighters, Missionaries of Charity, bishops priests and daily Massgoers all passed by the other side of the street, but a pimp, or a drug pusher, or a terrorist drew near. It would be like a KKK members’ drawing near to a BlackLivesMatter victim or vice versa. The point Jesus was making was that if someone so unexpected would have his heart pierced to inconvenience himself, draw close, “waste” his wine and oil on his needs, take him to an inn, care for him himself, and give a fortune for his continued care, then how much more those like us who know that they’re supposed to love God with all their mind, heart, soul and strength should do so.

And how urgent it is for us to start leading the world in this type of neighborly care, lest our neighborhoods ultimately become crime scenes. Pope Francis has been saying that one of the biggest problems facing the globalized world is a globalized indifference. We’ve become so anaesthetized to other people’s pain, which we see every day on the news, that we don’t stop any longer even to weep, not to mention to help. In response to that indifference, that hardness of heart that makes us insensitive to the plight of our neighbors and even our family members, Jesus, the Pope says, is calling each of us anew to be a Good Samaritan, and make ourselves neighbor to those who need our care. Christ says that our salvation depends on it. “Do this and you will live,” he tells the lawyer in today’s Gospel, which clearly implies that if we don’t do it, we won’t inherit eternal life.

Because Christ loves us, he wants to make it easy for us to become Good Samaritans, for us to prove ourselves neighbors to those in need. That’s why he doesn’t make us have to solve complicated discernment processes to find out whom to help. He places them quite conspicuously in our path. And the more we care for the conspicuous ones in need, the more we learn how to care for everyone, including those who might not at face value seem to be in need at all.

In his extraordinary 1984 apostolic exhortation on the Meaning of Christian Suffering, Salvifici Doloris, John Paul II helped us to see the two-fold purpose of suffering: first, to help us humbly recognize our need for God and allow him to be Good Samaritan to us; and second, to force us to make the choice to become Good Samaritans to others rather than pass by with hardened hearts. Suffering, he says, unleashes love in the human person, precisely the type of love that reigns in Christ’s kingdom, the love that begins in the heart and translates into deeds. Listen to St. John Paul: “The parable of the Good Samaritan belongs to the Gospel of suffering. For it indicates what the relationship of each of us must be towards our suffering neighbour. We are not allowed to “pass by on the other side” indifferently; we must “stop” beside him. Everyone who stops beside the suffering of another person, whatever form it may take, is a Good Samaritan. This stopping does not mean curiosity but availability. It is like the opening of a certain interior disposition of the heart, which also has an emotional expression of its own. … One must cultivate this sensitivity of heart, which bears witness to compassion towards a suffering person. Some times this compassion remains the only or principal expression of our love for and solidarity with the sufferer. … Nevertheless, the Good Samaritan of Christ’s parable does not stop at sympathy and compassion alone. They become for him an incentive to actions aimed at bringing help to the injured man. In a word, then, a Good Samaritan is one who brings help in suffering, whatever its nature may be, help that is, as far as possible, effective. He puts his whole heart into it, nor does he spare material means. We can say that he gives himself, his very ‘I,’ opening this ‘I’ to the other person. … Following the parable of the Gospel, we could say that suffering, which is present under so many different forms in our human world, is also present in order to unleash love in the human person, that unselfish gift of one’s ‘I’ on behalf of other people, especially those who suffer. The world of human suffering unceasingly calls for, so to speak, another world: the world of human love; and in a certain sense man owes to suffering that unselfish love which stirs in his heart and actions. The person who is a ‘neighbor’ cannot indifferently pass by the suffering of another: this in the name of fundamental human solidarity, still more in the name of love of neighbour. He must ‘stop,’ ‘sympathize,’ just like the Samaritan of the Gospel parable. The parable in itself expresses a deeply Christian truth, but one that at the same time is very universally human. It is not without reason that, also in ordinary speech, any activity on behalf of the suffering and needy is called ‘Good Samaritan’ work.”

Jesus knows that we need to become a Good Samaritan, and he gives us this help most at Mass, so that we can enter into Communion with Him the Good Samaritan. At Mass we enter into Christ’s supreme act of love in the Last Supper and on the Cross, with the one who, like the man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, was once ambushed in a garden, then stripped, beaten and left for dead on a Cross. When he was dying there, most of his disciples ran off in the other direction. Only a few faithful followers — the Blessed Mother, St. John, St. Mary Magdalene — drew close to him. Only these proved neighbor to him. As they pray for us to follow in their footsteps, we approach this altar to receive the body and blood that was offered on the Cross for us, we ask the Lord for the gift that, recognizing him here under the humble appearances of bread and wine, we might recognize him in all those in need and that we might have the courage to love him in that disguise. Jesus tells us today, to do this in memory of him, to go and do the same. May the Good Samaritan whom we’re about to receive in one-flesh union, help us from within to become his hands, his feet, his tearducts, his compassionate heart, in the midst of a indifferent world that desperately needs us and the whole Mystical Body to become brothers and neighbors — other Christs — to those in need. May the Good Shepherd help us to do what he describes for us will bring us — and others — to inherit eternal life.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 DT 30:10-14

Moses said to the people:
“If only you would heed the voice of the LORD, your God,
and keep his commandments and statutes
that are written in this book of the law,
when you return to the LORD, your God,
with all your heart and all your soul.”For this command that I enjoin on you today
is not too mysterious and remote for you.
It is not up in the sky, that you should say,
‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
Nor is it across the sea, that you should say,
‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
No, it is something very near to you,
already in your mouths and in your hearts;
you have only to carry it out.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37

R. (cf. 33) Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.
I pray to you, O LORD,
for the time of your favor, O God!
In your great kindness answer me
with your constant help.
Answer me, O LORD, for bounteous is your kindness:
in your great mercy turn toward me.
R. Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.
I am afflicted and in pain;
let your saving help, O God, protect me.
I will praise the name of God in song,
and I will glorify him with thanksgiving.
R. Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.
“See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.”
R. Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.
For God will save Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah.
The descendants of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall inhabit it.
R. Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.

Or PS 19:8, 9, 10, 11

R.(9a) Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
the decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever;
the ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
They are more precious than gold,
than a heap of purest gold;
sweeter also than syrup
or honey from the comb.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.

Reading 2 COL 1:15-20

Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers;
all things were created through him and for him.
He 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,
that in all things he himself might be preeminent.
For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile all things for him,
making peace by the blood of his cross
through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.

Alleluia CF. JN 6:63C, 68C

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life;
you have the words of everlasting life.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 10:25-37

There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said,
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law?
How do you read it?”
He said in reply,
“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.”

He replied to him, “You have answered correctly;
do this and you will live.”But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus,
“And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied,
“A man fell victim to robbers
as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.
They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.
A priest happened to be going down that road,
but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
Likewise a Levite came to the place,
and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him
was moved with compassion at the sight.
He approached the victim,
poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them.
Then he lifted him up on his own animal,
took him to an inn, and cared for him.
The next day he took out two silver coins
and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction,
‘Take care of him.
If you spend more than what I have given you,
I shall repay you on my way back.’
Which of these three, in your opinion,
was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?”
He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”