Sunday of Week 15 of Ordinary Time (Year C)

Commentary on Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37

The core of the Christian message is:

– faith as total trust in God and his message that comes through Christ in the New Testament;

– love as the driving power of all our actions and relationships.

We cannot have one without the other. As the Apostle James says in his Letter: “Faith without good works is dead.”

Some people tend to be very concerned about orthodoxy, about thinking and saying the right thing in conformity with the Church’s teaching, but there can be no orthodoxy without orthopraxis, as the example of the Pharisees makes clear. Faith which does not express itself in love is Pharisaism. Christian faith truly lived results in a bonding with people everywhere. It is a living out of the prayer, “OUR Father”.

 Four people
Today we have one of the most famous Gospel stories, the “Good Samaritan”. There are four people in the story:

– A Jewish priest, a man of deep religious convictions, serving in the Temple at Jerusalem.

– A Levite, also a religious person with Temple connections.

– A Samaritan, a traveller apparently on business. Samaritans were regarded by devout Jews as outsiders, heretics, people not to be seen in company with.

– An unknown man, beaten up by robbers on the roadside. Presumably a Jew to give the story its full impact but not necessarily so. In a sense it is totally irrelevant what labels are attached to the man. All that matters is that he is a fellow-human being in great need of help.

In such a situation the response expected by the Gospel is clear:

-forget about your status in society (“A person of my standing cannot be expected to help in such a situation…”)

-forget what people might say about you,

-forget about personal fears and desires which turn you in on yourself,

-forget about your religious “obligations”.

Were the priest and the Levite on the way to the Temple? If so, they could not risk coming in contact with the injured man who was almost certainly bleeding. Contact with blood would render them “unclean” and keep them out of the Temple and their worshipping of God there. It was clear to them where their priorities lay. It would be like if I were to say, “I know you’ve been attacked and beaten up and urgently need an ambulance. But you are bleeding and might have some disease. Anyway I am rushing to the last Sunday Mass. It will be a mortal sin if I do not go.” And, anyway, there is nothing in the Ten Commandments about helping victims of attack.

Not a question of morals
Again, the Gospel tells us to forget about the moral condition of the one to be helped. It is totally irrelevant how the man got into the situation. Maybe he was stupid to be travelling alone with money on a notoriously dangerous road. So, today it might be a driver who crashed while drunk. It might be someone who is on drugs or who leads a promiscuous lifestyle.

For Jesus none of this counts. In the story, the injured man – a complete stranger – has a higher priority than the needs of any of the other three. The first two are rushing to the Temple to worship God. What they fail to realise is that a child of God and their own brother is right there lying on the road. God can be worshipped right here! “As often as you do it one of these the least of my brothers and sisters, you do it to ME” says Jesus our Brother.

The outsider
But only one of the three, the despised outsider, responds to the need. He was the one most apparently in a hurry. He applied first aid (oil and wine), found shelter for the man and paid all his expenses. And the victim was probably a Jew. The key word in the story is “compassion” used twice. In fact, the verb used to express the feelings of the Samaritan for the victim lying on the road is the same as that used to describe Jesus’ compassion for the crowd, when he see them as “like sheep without a shepherd”. This is not at all the same as pity. Pity suggests looking at the victim from a superior position. Compassion implies fellow-feeling, identifying with the pain and suffering of others; empathy, not just sympathy, being sorry with, not just sorry for.

The neighbour
The story is actually a response to the question: “Who is my neighbour?” As the Jewish lawyer himself says, the neighbour is the one “who shows mercy”. He/she is not just the person living next door, nor a fellow-national, nor a fellow-Catholic but someone who responds unconditionally to the need of a brother/sister. A real neighbour in the Gospel is one who can show real compassion to a total stranger in need, unconditionally and without moral judgement.

“You’re in the gutter and you deserve to be there”, is not being neighbourly.

“Why can’t your own people come and help you?”, is not being neighbourly.

“I have only time for my own family,” is not being neighbourly.

“Love your neighbour as yourself” is one arm of the most central commandment. “Who is my neighbour?” is a crucial question in carrying out the commandment. Each one has honestly to ask this question. Another way to ask it is, “Who in my life am I willing/unwilling to help?” What are my criteria for helping another person? Do family, friends, race, religion, moral goodness, criminal record come into the picture? What about the person who hates me, the drug addict, the alcoholic, the prostitute, the diseased…?

This parable touches all our lives deeply. In honestly answering the question, “Who is my neighbour?”, I learn a great deal about the kind of person I am, the kind of neighbour I am.

Let’s all be good neighbours!

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