in Ordinary Time
A Homily - Cycle C - 2018-2019
by Rev. William Nyce
First Reading - Deuteronomy 30:10-14
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37
Second Reading - Colossians 1:15-20
Gospel - Luke 10:25-37
Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test Jesus 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."
In our readings today, as for most Sundays of the year, the Church proposes a first reading (usually taken from the Old Testament) which is a key to understanding the Gospel which was just proclaimed. While, for our second reading, we simply march through a letter from the New Testament, the first reading and the Gospel are usually linked. And so we heard today not only Jesus’ powerful parable of the Good Samaritan, but also our first reading from the book of Deuteronomy: the last of the five books of the Old Testament which the Jews called the Torah in Hebrew, or the Law.
And so we hear in our Gospel that a ‘scholar of the Law’ stood up to test Jesus. This man had studied Deuteronomy, and asked Jesus to explain the most important law among the 613 precepts found in the Torah. And Jesus responds with the command to love God (from Deuteronomy ch. 6) and to love one’s neighbor (from Leviticus 19). It’s a nice answer…in fact, it is a perfect answer. But this scholar made his living on helping people understand the intricacies of the law. If the law were that easy, if it did not need to be examined, evaluated and applied to individual cases by men who had studied it, then the scholar would be out of a job. And so he asks the tricky question: but who is my neighbor? Since the Law was something given in particular to Jews, shouldn’t it benefit the Jewish people above all? “Neighbor” should probably be metaphorically interpreted as “someone who believes in the one true God,” or “a practicing Jew,” or “a believer.” In this law from Leviticus chapter 19 verse 18, “neighbor,” couldn’t possibly be taken to be literally the person next-door, because that could be a pagan, or a gentile, or one of those Samaritans, those people who betrayed the true worship of the temple in Jerusalem, could it?
Rather than giving the simple answer of “yes, neighbor means anyone who God puts next to you,” Jesus doubled down with this challenging parable we heard today of the man who was robbed on the road from Jerusalem to the city of Jericho. Neither the temple priest or the Levite—which were Old Testament prototypes of priests and deacons—stopped to help this man. Both the priest and the Levite were not only “neighbors by birth” of this poor man, but also knew the external rites and rules for worship given in the law very well. It was a part of their vocation. They slaughtered the animals and offered sacrifice and prayers in the temple on behalf of the people.
But Jesus wanted to show that even those called to serve God through external worship still are held to the primacy of internal adherence to the law. And here is where our first reading comes in: this divine law to love God and neighbor is not something distant from us. “It is not up in the sky that you should say, ‘who will go up in the sky and get it for us?’...No, it is something very near you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”
God puts people in our path, and those are the people we are called to love. We don’t have to be too creative, or rely on our own ingenuity, or strength, or power, or influence. No, doing God’s will is what he puts right in front of us, is who he puts right in front of us. For spouses, each other; for sons and daughters, their parents; and the people living next door. God is so practical! His law is simple: we make it difficult by not trusting that God wants to work in us and make us instruments for the person right in front of us – right now.
In this parable, we like to identify with the Good Samaritan…and it is true: we ought to want to be someone who treats others with mercy, just as Jesus commanded. However, we can also see ourselves as the wounded man. The descent to Jericho—some Fathers of the Church write—can represent our descent into worldly pleasures which leaves us beaten, wounded, and half dead. But Jesus, our Good Samaritan, descended to our lowly condition by becoming man. He comes to us and pours the wine of his suffering into our wounds…it stings a little bit, but it purifies us. Then he anoints us with oil, a symbol of the Holy Spirit. We are brought to the inn, which is the Church, as a place to rest. Jesus gives the innkeeper, Peter or Paul, or one of the apostles or their successors, two coins which are the two testaments. The innkeeper spends his knowledge and his love instructing and teaching us about how Jesus fulfills and begins these covenants. Our innkeeper Paul teaches us today in our beautiful beginning to the letter to the Colossians. And with the hope that he indeed “is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,” we wait for our Good Samaritan to return and find us healed, and reward those who worked while he was gone.
But I think there is a third person in this parable with whom we can identify…and it is one reason why I love this church’s window that so beautifully illustrates today’s parable. Pictured here is the wounded man and the good Samaritan front and center…perhaps the Levite in the background…but actually one of the featured characters in the depiction here is the donkey. And I think it’s good that we identify with the donkey. If we want to do great things for God, we have to realize that it is Jesus who is going to do the work. He is the one who will find the suffering out there, and it is he who will heal them. Our job, as good Christians, is to follow behind our master and to bear anyone who he puts on our shoulders. It is his grace which will heal our neighbors…we just have to carry them and keep following Jesus. It should be our pride to be the Lord’s pack animal.
And so we come today to the stable, this Church, and are nourished at its manger of grace. Here we are fed with the good grain of charity, and because of him who suffered for us, our eyes are opened to see and help those are suffering on the road of this life. Because we’re not just any donkey, but the Lord’s, we also have the privilege of being able to tug on the rope and intercede for our loved ones, so long as we resolve to shoulder our neighbor; whomever the Lord might ask us to carry.