Homily for 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2007
Yesterday I celebrated a wedding here at St Joseph's as you can see by the flowers decorating the Church. When it comes to the marriage vows I find that metaphorically speaking I hold my breath! Will they say "I do" or "I don't"? Of course they say "I do". But to enter into marriage is an enormously big commitment. Are they ready for it, until death? Christian marriage is a celebration of Jesus' command to love with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbour as ourselves. That command which is the centre of the Gospel today. But young people come with great hopes and dreams and joy. And the do not come alone to Christian marriage.
The parable of the "Good Samaritan" remains one of the most beautiful in the Gospels. Unfortunately, the phrase "Good Samaritan" has taken on some of the negative sense of a "do gooder" in today's world of global economies and economic rationalism. A "do gooder" is someone who interferes in the affairs of another unnecessarily in order to help them. These days people are expected to be responsible for their own welfare. They should not be depending on government or others to prop them up except in extreme circumstances. There is no place for do gooders.
As we are engaged in much debate in Australia over industrial relations it is well worth remembering that the Church does have much social justice teaching that is a great starting point for a Christian approach to those matters. Pope Paul VI wrote an encyclical called "Poplulorum Progressio", "On the Progress of Peoples". Even though the world is very different from that to which he was responding in 1967 the Catholic principles of social justice are still valid. In it he says for example, that "Economics and technology have no meaning except from man whom they should serve" ((Populorum Progressio, #34)) . That principle is an important one for our Western world where the economy is the thing and all else is subservient to it.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is far from being a sentimenal moralising to be kind to others in need. But neither is it an easy guide to solving social and economic inequalities. While it challenges us to reflect on both of those issues the parable has a different aim.
There is a great danger in measuring the goodness or correctness of other people, or in deciding whether they should belong with us, by one's own standards. The very culture and traditions by which we identify ourselves as Jew or Christian or Catholic can, and often do, create divisions between people. The Gospel today tells of an occasion when a lawyer was trying to publicly shame Jesus by showing that he was ignorant of the Law. The observance of the Law is the way one can "return to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul" we heard Moses say in the first reading (Deuteronomy 30:10-14). When Jesus does show his knowledge of the Law and confounds the attempt to trick him the lawyer tries to justify himself by asking, "Who is my neighbour?" The result of the parable is to shame the lawyer who by his own words demonstrates the shortcomings of his approach.
The parable is not about who deserves my love or my compassion. It is about how to be a loving person. And that is a far more demanding question. How to be a neighbour. In the parable the bashing victim on the side of the road took second place to the requirements of the Law about worship so that the priest and levite would not touch him. They would be ritually unclean if they touched an injured and possibley dead person and so unable to perform their duties in the Temple. Jesus corrects this understanding of the law. The priest and levite measured the extent of the victims deserving of their help by their own rules. Jesus overturns that. God acts differently.
By the very nature of being a nation or a Church we make rules, we develop traditions to support and protect what we believe and do. In doing so we make distinctions between people even with the best of intentions. The outcome may be the opposite of what we set out to do especially when our distinctions become prejudices. We need to listen to the Gospel again and again no matter how familiar it may seem so that we do not put our rules and traditions first. If I judge everything by my measure of what is right I can easily be closed to what God wants. To protect what we see as our way of life or what is true Christianity we emphasise the things that identify us as unique. In so doing we can close other people off from us. And that is the opposite of what Jesus did. How paradoxical the Gospel is!
The beautiful commentary of Moses on the Torah, the Law, in the first reading stands in contrast to the interpretation of the Law by the priest and levite. Jesus in the parable takes that up and extends it. Jesus identifies Love as the heart of the Law and the prophets.
the Sacraments, our loving God pours oil and wine on our wounded
lives, binds our wounds, and carries us to a safe place. The
Eucharist is to be just such a safe place where we are nourished.
Jesus tells us "Go and do likewise" (Luke 10:36).