Saturday, July 10, 2010

Homily for 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 11, 2010
Luke 10: 25-37
Christian Brothers, Iona College
Willow Towers, New Rochelle

“Because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10: 29).

Some of those who question Jesus in the gospels do so sincerely. They’re really looking for truth, for the path to a closer relationship with God. Others, however, are out to “test” Jesus, to “trap him in his words,” to show that he’s not a reliable or an authentic teacher in the Jewish tradition, or is some sort of public enemy. Today’s questioner seems to belong to this 2d group, for, Luke says, he “stood up to test” Jesus (10:25).

St. Luke comments that this “scholar of the law,” or as many translations call him more simply, this “lawyer,” “wished to justify himself.” (If I were going to insert a lawyer joke, this would be the place. But I’ll resist that temptation.) What does that mean? To be just, in biblical terms, is to be in a right relationship with God: to be, to act, even to think as God wishes. Noah, Abraham, Joseph the husband of Mary, Simeon, Joseph of Arimathea are all described as “just.” These are all people who did without hesitation what God asked of them. In the NT the paragon of justice is Jesus, the “holy and just one” of God (Acts 3:14), whose all-encompassing justice compensates for all the rest of us as well.

But this lawyer hesitates regarding God’s wishes. He “wishes to justify himself,” i.e., to make his own determination of a good relationship with God, his own determination of what God should expect of him, what God should require of him. He’s ready to love his neighbor—God wants that—provided he can control who belongs in that category.

He’s hardly unique. The implication of Jesus’ parable is that none of his audience would think of a Samaritan as a neighbor, or expect the Samaritan to act like a neighbor. Not even the apostles would. Do you remember that just a few weeks ago James and John wanted God to destroy a Samaritan village that wouldn’t offer hospitality to Jesus on his journey (Luke 9:52-54)? The implication is that it’s not only natural and normal for us to categorize some people as “outsiders,” but that’s OK with God as well. And if it’s OK with God, then I’m OK, I’m in good standing, I’m “justified,” when I disregard these categories of people too. But these are the choices of individual persons, not of God.

The message of Jesus, in this parable and thruout his teaching, is that in God’s eyes no one is an outcast, unclean, unworthy of love—not a neighbor. It’s true that some people reject the offer of God’s love. Not for nothing does Jesus rake the scribes and Pharisees over the coals: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees—hypocrites!” (Matt 23; Luke 11:37-54). He warns that sinning against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable (Luke 12:10). His parable of the last judgment casts those who don’t show a practical love for their neighbor—even the poorest of society, even strangers and prisoners—into eternal fire (Matt 25:41). They’re choosing to be outsiders; God hasn’t made that decision.

In our reading from the prophet Hosea on Thursday, the Lord proclaimed to Israel, “I am God and not man” (11:9), which is a prophecy of God’s mercy overcoming his anger at Israel’s sinfulness. Isaiah has a similar line from the Lord to Israel, also about mercy: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (55:8). It implies that we humans aren’t at all ready to forgive, to relent, when we’re offended. It implies that the human standard of justification differs from God’s standard.

Which we know well enuf, don’t we? In too many ways we want, we demand, that God should judge by our standards: May such-and-such a sinner (by our judgment) rot in hell! Or, contrariwise, How could God condemn so-and-so’s actions, when I certainly wouldn’t condemn them? The bottom line of so much of our thinking is: If God were really smart, he’d listen to me! That’s when we, like the scholar of the law, are seeking to justify ourselves—to make our ideas, our behavior, the standard of propriety, of Church discipline, of morality.

We know well enuf that it doesn’t work that way, of course. Jesus doesn’t equivocate when he answers the lawyer. The lawyer started by asking, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (10:25). (Note that it’s a foolish question: no one can do anything to earn an inheritance. Inheritances—like eternal life—are something freely given.) And Jesus ends the dialog by commanding him—not suggesting—“Go and do likewise” (10:37). Go and be a neighbor to anyone and everyone, as God does. Go and give of yourself and your resources to anyone and everyone, as God does. Human calculations, prudent calculations—such as those presumably made by the priest and the Levite as they pass by the injured traveler—don’t enter the moral equation, the equation of our being made right before God.

And so it is with all aspects of our lives: not what does the common wisdom of people suggest, not how will this benefit me, not how do I feel about it, not even what does some rule or law say. But what will benefit my neighbor, my family, the community, the common good of society? What would Jesus do? What does Jesus teach in the Scriptures and in his living voice in the 21st century, the Catholic Church? In the Opening Prayer this evening, we prayed that the Gospel would be our rule of life. For it is Jesus who justifies us—thru his own self-emptying on the cross; and not our own calculations, estimations, and wisdom. There’s no justifying ourselves.

No comments: