15th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 10, 2016
Luke 10: 25-37
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.
“A scholar of the Law stood up to test Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” (Luke 10: 25).
As we heard, Jesus answers that we must love God totally, entirely, with our whole being, and our neighbor in the same way we love ourselves. Moses tells the Israelites that God’s commandments aren’t “mysterious and remote” (Deut 30:11) but “very near” them, already in their mouths and hearts (30:14). Learning from Jesus, we see that God’s command is as close as our neighbor.
The scholar of the Law—literally, the “lawyer”—who was testing Jesus, asked a follow-up question: “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Luke tells us that he asked this “to justify himself” (10:29), i.e., to be given a pat on the head and the assurance that he’s a good chap who’s faithful to the Law and beloved of God.
According to the Law of Moses, the Jews were obliged to regard all their fellow Jews as their neighbors and to assist them in need—even those who might be personal enemies. But there was no obligation whatever to help a Gentile; with clear conscience you could watch him drown.
As we heard, Jesus doesn’t give the lawyer a direct answer. He tells one of his most famous parables, the one we know as “the Good Samaritan.”
The road between Jerusalem and Jericho was notoriously dangerous, lonely, winding, with many places where a traveler might be ambushed and robbed. So it happens to the anonymous man in Jesus’ story. Once he’s been stripped of his clothes and beaten unconscious, there’s no way to identify him, neither ethnic garb nor language. He might be Jewish, Arab, Greek, Egyptian, Phoenician, even Samaritan.
The priest and the Levite who pass him by could easily justify their behavior. If the robbers’ victim is dead—you can’t tell without touching him—they’ll become ritually unclean from that touch, and unable to perform their sacred duties. Besides, the road’s dangerous enuf without lingering on it.
No doubt Jesus shocked his audience by introducing as the 3d character not a Jewish layman but a Samaritan. As you know, Jews and Samaritans hated each other. And this Samaritan—evidently well-to-do because he’s got a donkey and some cash and is a frequent traveler on this road—stops to help, with no idea whom he’s helping, except that it’s a fellow human being in desperate need. He gives 1st aid and transport and arranges for 1st-century hospitalization (such as it was), at some risk to himself, both obvious and less obvious.
|The Good Samaritan (Rembrandt)|
Jesus’ final answer is, “Go and do likewise” (10:37). This answers the lawyer’s original question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” That, of course, is the question for every one of us. And Jesus’ answer for each of us is the same: Do what the Samaritan did in the parable—treat every man, and woman and child, as your neighbor. Have compassion, extend mercy, to everyone, including people you don’t know and people you don’t like—to anyone in need.
You remember the Pope’s answer to reporters during his press conference on his return flight from Mexico last February? It’s not Christian to build a wall to prevent people from seeking refuge from violence or from economic desperation. Refugees—whether they’re fleeing Central American violence or Syrian violence—are our neighbors. Are we as a society prepared to “Go and do likewise”?
|(The Southern Cross)|
But taking care of our own 1st doesn’t excuse us from taking care of those in need in other parts of the world when we have more than sufficient means to do so. The Samaritan traveler probably was not taking care of one of his own.
Now it’s true that Americans are among the most generous people in the world, if not the most generous, in responding to terrible natural disasters like the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, or the Haitian earthquake in 2010. It’s also a demonstrable fact that people of faith are much more generous in their charitable giving than secularists. That needs to be acknowledged. (Give yourself a pat on the back!)
But we have to ask whether we as the wealthiest nation in the world are doing enuf to care for the world’s 65 million refugees (not counting internally displaced persons), or the hundreds of millions whose income at home is under $2 a day, or the one billion people who lack clean, potable drinking water; enuf to end human trafficking; enuf to rescue children forced into dangerous employment in mines and factories, or coerced into taking up arms in various civil wars (as portrayed, e.g., in the 2006 film Blood Diamond).
U.S. foreign aid, even including military aid, is about 1% of the total federal budget. Is that the best we can do for our neighbors in need? As a country, are we afraid if our taxes were higher we couldn’t eat out as often, go to as many movies, buy as expensive a car, or go skiing in Colorado every winter?
There’s a kind of parallel between this parable and the one in Matt 25 about the Last Judgment, when the Great King welcomes into the heavenly kingdom all who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed strangers, visited the sick, etc., because in doing so they were treating him with mercy; and those who failed to do those acts of mercy toward the people in their lives—well, they were not welcomed into heaven but sent elsewhere. Both parables tell us what we must do to inherit eternal life.
If you’re already doing as the Samaritan did in some fashion—none of us can rescue the entire world, of course—may God bless you with his peace, a joyful heart, and knowledge that you’re walking with Jesus on the path toward eternal life.