Living and Loving in the Kingdom of Christ’s Worldwide Neighborhood, 15th Sunday (C), July 10, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Church of the Holy Family, Manhattan
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 Answer to the Most Important Question

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. 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, Jesus himself said elsewhere, “hang all the law and the prophets” (Mt 22:40). These two commandments are a summary, in other words, of the entire Old Testament. 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 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.

Who is the Good Samaritan? 

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.

Do we draw near? 

Hence, Jesus gives all of us a point on which to examine our consciences today. 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. And so we can ask ourselves: When we see someone in need — like someone living on the streets of Manhattan, or whose car has broken down on the highway, or who has just lost her job, or who is mourning the loss of a loved one — do we behave like the priest and the Levite, who, although outwardly religious, pass by on the other side of the road, afraid to get our hands dirty and commit our time to helping someone in dire straits? Or when we see someone in need, do we draw close and see how we can help, even to the point of sacrificing our own time, money, transportation and other goods? Are we willing to be inconvenienced to help others or are we too busy minding our own business to stop and put others and their urgent needs above ourselves and our own desires?

As we seek to learn from what happened in Dallas this week, in the cold-blooded 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. And Christ wants that to change. And he’s calling us Christians to be on the forefront in helping to bring about that change.

To illustrate that point, 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.

A Matter of Life and Death

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.

Jesus makes this point even clearer for us in his stark words about the final judgment in St. Matthew’s Gospel. He tells us that he will separate the living and the dead into two groups like a shepherd separates sheep from goats. He’ll place the saved on his right and the damned on his left. And he’ll say to those who are condemned, “I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you gave me no clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” In other words, “I was left in a ditch and you passed by the opposite side.” We can update Jesus’ words in categories those of us in 2016 can’t brush aside. “I was hungry and thirsty and you told me, ‘Get a job, you lazy louch.’ I was naked and instead of clothing me and caring for me you just got aroused staring at me naked on pornographic websites. I was sick and you told me that it was just too bad that I didn’t have health insurance. I was a stranger and when I didn’t have a green card you told me to get out of ‘your’ country. I was in prison and you forgot about me or, worse, you assembled outside the penitentiary with signs and bullhorns saying I deserved to die by lethal injection.” These are things, sadly, that not just “people” say and do, but Catholics say and do. Rather than crossing the road to help people in such circumstances and inspiring others to join us in gestures of love, many Catholics not only don’t cross the road, but resent and oppose others helping them. In the parable on the Last Judgment, Jesus told us that those who are condemned will ask with shock and dread, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not take care of you?” In other words, “Jesus, if I knew it were truly you instead of just some immigrant, or hungry alcoholic, or deadbeat on death row, I would have cared for you.” But Jesus said he would respond, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Mt 25:42-46). When we neglect the person in need, we neglect the Lord himself. When we don’t weep over others’ misfortune and try to do something about it by faithful prayer and deeds of compassion then we will be weeping over our own misfortune forever. When we, like Cain, don’t think we are our brothers’ keeper, when we don’t care for them and love them, we’re already choosing to live outside of God’s kingdom in a type of manmade and one day, unless we convert, that tragic choice we’re making now will just be confirmed by God.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan, which has the possibility of being relived in real life in some way every day, is a gift of God to train us to love like Christ. When we see someone in need, like the man ambushed in the Parable, Jesus makes the choice easy for us; in a sense the person’s condition screams to us, “Can you please help me?,” and the more we help those in desperate circumstances the easier it will be for us to become neighbor to others in ordinary circumstances. As Moses said to the Israelites in today’s first reading, what God is telling us to do is not so up in the sky that we need to send an astronaut to find it or across the sea that we need to send a ship: “No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts,” it’s already being spoken, in other words, by God to you in your conscience and you’re already reciting it on your lips. “You have only to carry it out!” We have only to do it and we will live.

When Christ was in Need

Jesus knows that we need his help to do it and live. As we prepare to enter into Christ’s supreme act of love in the Last Supper and on the Cross, we call to mind that the Lord himself, 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 we seek to follow in their footsteps and 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.”

 

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