15th Sunday in Ordinary Time. July 14th 2013
Deut 30:10-14; Col 1:15-20; Lk 10:25-37
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?…”And who is my neighbor?”
A few months ago I heard that a childhood friend of mine who was a devout Catholic had left the Catholic Church for a certain sect that was known to have some of the weirdest beliefs. Today’s Gospel reminds me of the reason he gave for leaving the Church. He had lost his father while still a Catholic and was going through a very difficult time in his life. He said that no single person from his parish even visited him during his time of grief. No one asked how he was coping with his dad’s death. No one offered any assistance to him during this period. No single person offered to pray for him. He felt abandoned and neglected by those whom he thought were his brothers and sisters. But the members of this sect visited him, prayed for him, consoled him and helped him with the burial of his father. He decided to join this sect after they walked with him through his grieving process.
Maybe there are other unstated reasons for his leaving the Church. But he confessed that he did not leave the Catholic Church because he rejected the Catholic beliefs or her leadership or her sacraments or any of that stuff. He said he left because of the inaction of the parish members to him in his time of need. We Catholics have the infallible truth of God’s word directing us on how to love God and neighbor. We have the examples and teachings of the Church fathers who gave their lives for this faith. We possess the heroic examples and writings of saints for over 2,000 years teaching us the path of love for God and neighbor. We have a Magisterium, a teaching office that gives us Spirit guaranteed authoritative interpretations of scripture. And then we have the graces of the sacraments to move us from within to love God and neighbor like Jesus did. We do not lack for truths and means to live by them; but we lack for action. We fail to act on all that truth with the help of the grace given to us.
In today’s Gospel, the scholar asks Jesus two questions, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” and, ”And who is my neighbor?” There is a connection between these two questions. The scholar knows the law inside out as he even mentions the two fold commandment of love of God and love of neighbor. He does not lack for knowledge or understanding of God’s laws. Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan in answer to the scholar’s second question, “Who is my neighbor?” In this parable, Jesus shifts focus from the question, “Who is my neighbor” to focus on the more relevant question, “Who acts as neighbor?” Jesus asks, “Which of them was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” We must remember that the Jews did not only despise the Samaritans, considering them ritually unclean religious and social outcasts; but they considered the Samaritans as people who did not know or have the law of God. Jesus’ parable is portent because it is not the knowledgeable and ritually clean priest or Levite who acted as neighbors to the robbers’ victim but the Samaritan, the one who was considered ignorant of God’s laws and ritually unclean who acted as neighbor. Hence, Jesus closes His discussion with the scholar with the command, “God and do likewise.” The time for theologizing is over; now is time to act on what is known.
The Samaritan acted as neighbor to one who despised him and considered him lawless probably because he listened and responded to the law of God in his own heart. In today’ first reading, Moses reminded the Israelites that God’s command is not so mysterious and remote from them. They do not need to seek someone to go up in the sky and get the law for them and they do not need to seek someone to cross the sea and get it for them. Moses teaches them that the commandments and statues are “very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.” Nothing hinders them from keeping the commandments. But knowledge of these commandments is not enough; they must be carried out if their life-giving power is to be experienced. The commandments guide us in the way of loving God and neighbor. These laws move and guide us in acting act as neighbors towards others. All men and women of every creed or faith, even those who do not believe in God, have this law also in their hearts such that we are all moved to act as neighbors towards others. A mere knowledge of these laws is useless for eternal life.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, whether we realize it or not, we all desire eternal life, this perfect sharing in the endless and fulfilling life of God. This eternal life, this life with God in heaven, is also a life with all the saints in heaven. In heaven we shall be in perfect union not only with the Triune God, but with all those who have followed the law of God in their hearts from the moment of the creation of the world and have striven to act as neighbors to others. This is not wishful thinking!!! Jesus said today to the scholar, “Do this and you will live.” In other words, Jesus says to us, “Let the commands of God alone written in your heart guide you in loving God and neighbor and you will surely have eternal life.” Because this eternal life is not a finishing line that we cross at the end of our lives but a participation in divine love that we grow into even here on earth, our participation in this eternal life is determined by how we choose to act or not to act as neighbors to others in the concrete daily events of life.
If we are going to be perfect neighbors with God and the saints in heaven, then we too must begin to act as neighbors towards others in concrete ways here on earth. We take a step towards the perfection of our journey when we too choose to act as neighbors to whoever is in need. We cannot pick and choose the recipients of our loving action. How can we hope to live with God and others for eternity when we ignore the same persons here on earth? No malice, rejection, isolation in heaven. Here on earth we must be attentive to the needs of all people whether we are loved by them or not, whether they are born or unborn, old or young, male or female, rich or poor, sick or healthy, etc. We cannot choose to “pass by on the other side” like the priest and Levite in today’s Gospel and expect to have the life of God in us.
Jesus, Our Eucharistic Lord, has so acted as our neighbor in becoming one like us so as to meet our deepest longing – eternal life. As St. Paul reminds us, “Jesus Christ is the Head of His body, the Church.” We the members of this body must not only love the Head, but we cannot ignore the other members. Jesus enlightens and nourishes us with His own truth and grace in this Eucharistic sacrifice so that we too hear the divine summons deep in our hearts to act as neighbor to all and follow this summon all the days of our lives. But knowledge alone is never enough and nothing hinders us too from acting as neighbors to others. If we choose to act as neighbors instead of asking who our neighbor is, we shall surely have eternal life.