July 10, 2022
Sister Jan Ginzkey, OSB reflects on the scripture readings: Deuteronomy 30: 10 – 14; Colossian 1: 15 – 20; Luke 10: 25 – 37
The readings today ask us to reflect on how, as individuals or as a community, we actually follow God’s commands. Deuteronomy proclaims that God’s command is not too mysterious or remote that we have to search the heights or cross the sea to find it. The command of God is very near to each of us. It is already in our hearts and in our mouths. We have only to carry it out.
In the Gospel, a lawyer asks Jesus what is necessary to inherit eternal life? The lawyer is asking what is the minimum I am required to do to inherit the Kindom of Heaven? Jesus doesn’t give a simple answer. Jesus asks them to go deeper into their own heart to contact God’s presence within themselves. Jesus asks the lawyer what does God command?
The lawyer responds by rote, “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.” Jesus replies, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”
I believe many, like the lawyer can answer by rote what we learned in Catholic school, religious education, or Sunday school. Some of us are old enough to remember memorizing the answers in the Baltimore Catechism. The question is, do we really understand and conform our daily lives to these commands? Or like the lawyer do we look for the minimum that we “Have to do”? Do we really live with our whole mind, body, spirit, and heart devoted to serving God? Are we confused about who our neighbor is, like the Lawyer? How many people do I have to love?
What is your definition of a neighbor?
According to Google, a neighbor is:
NOUN a person living near or next door to the speaker or person referred to;
VERB (of a place or thing) be situated next to or very near (another)
Similar definitions include:
Adjacent, next to, in proximity, nearby, adjoined, connected, contiguous
Jesus has a much broader definition of neighbor. To help the lawyer and us to understand who our neighbor is, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. We are all familiar with this story. A person is robbed, beaten, and left to die along a well-traveled road. Two people see the victim and pass by on the other side of the road. A third person, a Samaritan, sees the victim and stops to tend the wounds and takes the person to an inn where he cares for that person and even pays to have the inn keeper continue to care for the victim.
Most of us would like to believe we would act like the Samaritan. I think in reality I/we could identify with all of the characters in the parable.
Exploring the first two, the Priest and the Levite; they may have legitimate reasons not to stop. Perhaps, the Priest was on the way to offer sacrifice at the temple. On seeing the victim severely beaten the priest may have assumed the person to be already dead. According to the Judaic law, if the priest touched a dead person, he would be ritually unclean and unable to sacrifice and perform the duties of his rank/class. The Levite was part of the tribe Moses set aside to care for the arc of the covenant and that later was responsible for the care and rituals in the temple in Jerusalem. This person could also have felt the need to obey the law and necessarily neglect the victim.
Have I or you ever been in a situation where we felt we should help but rationalized why the help was not given? How many panhandlers have been ignored because I made a judgement about their character or how they would use the money? Have I used the excuse that I can’t help everyone in need? The churches, shelters, food banks, and other sources are better suited to help than I am. Therefore, I am excused.
Then we have the Samaritan. Why did Jesus include a Samaritan? The Jews and Samaritans were religious, social, and political enemies. The Jews felt superior because the Temple in Jerusalem was where their God abided. They believed they were the only real chosen people. The Samaritans were a remnant of the northern tribes that believed God could be worshipped at Shechem, Horeb, Shiloh or other sites where Abraham and the prophets had worshiped God before Jerusalem and the Temple were built. Also, the land of Samaria divided the northern part of Judea, Galilee, from the southern part where Jerusalem was located.
We and the Lawyer can appreciate how counter-cultural this parable was. When asked which of the three was the neighbor, the Lawyer couldn’t even say the word Samaritan. He answered, “the one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus’ command to the lawyer and us is “go and do likewise!”
From this perspective we are challenged to be merciful even to those we consider an enemy. Most of us will not be faced with the need to personally assist a victim who has been mugged or been in a severe accident. However, how do I speak to or about someone who disagrees with me? Do I listen and learn why they believe as they do? Do I dialogue respectfully?
There are several issues today that can polarize people.
Gun violence, pro-choice/pro-birth, immigration, race and sexuality issues, homelessness, causes of inflation, and systemic injustices to name a few.
None of these issues can be swept under the rug or ignored. They are part of our culture, the society we live in daily. How do you and I approach such explosive issues?
I believe we must take any opportunity to participate in dialogue and civil discourse. Only in sharing from one heart to another heart will we begin to see and realize our commonalities. Only then can we begin to work for the common good. Only then can we obey Jesus’ command, “Go and do likewise.” Let us go and be compassionate and merciful, even to those we disagree with.