Jul 13, 2013

15th Sunday: Expand your circle

(Delacroix: The Good Samaritan)
"Go and do likewise"

Deut 30: 10-14
Col 1: 15-20
Lk 10: 25-37

Most of us may see our relationships as kind of concentric circles.  Those included in the first circle closest to us would be our own family members: parents, children, brothers and sisters, grandparents, and grandchildren.  If we say we are spending some quality family time it would be primarily with this group of people.  These are those we are most familiar with and who we generally love the most.  We feel a natural connection with this inner circle.

The other circles move out from this prime one to include friends and other family members.  We enjoy these folks.  We may see them often or just occasionally but they wouldn’t necessarily be the ones I would want to share all my time with.  They often come in and out of our lives. 

Then we have acquaintances and maybe those we work and serve with.  Then of course are those we have never met.  The broader human family including people we may or may not ever meet at some time. 

If we think of those in need, most would likely put their family members first.  A father or mother has a natural connection with the basic needs of their own children.  If they are in trouble or hurt in some say, parents fly to their rescue and are very concerned about their overall welfare. 

Those included in other surrounding circles may or may not receive help from us for we assume they may have others, their own families, who could be of assistance.  On go the natural human relationships.

Today’s Gospel story about the Good Samaritan is likely the most well-known of Jesus’ stories.  The lesson of it is very clear: we are called to be aware that those circles around us may need to expand and include even the stranger among us.  In the case of the story it not only includes a stranger; it includes a bitter enemy.  What makes the story all the more compelling is the way the response of the Samaritan is described by Jesus.  With care far beyond what was necessary, the Samaritan deeply empathizes about the stranger in need. He feels compassion for the suffering of the individual.

The word compassion is defined this way: “A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” In this case compassion is not just about coming to the aid of someone in physical suffering.  It’s about caring about that person. The Samaritan lifts this man on his horse, takes him to the inn, offers money and further assistance if necessary and wants to be further informed about his condition.  That is compassion in the flesh!

The hero of the story, then, is the enemy of the young lawyer who tries to test Jesus’ knowledge of the Mosaic Law and the fundamental meaning of the greatest of all commandments – to love God and neighbor. That law, as Deuteronomy speaks today in the first reading, is not “mysterious and remote but . . . is already in your mouths and in your hearts . . .”   

The “scholar of the law,” who knew the law very well and what it expected of a good and faithful Jew, poses a fundamental question: “Teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Being a legal scholar, he already knew that love of neighbor was inscribed as an obligation for a faithful Jew.  However, as Luke tells us, this was an attempt to “test” Jesus.  He assumed a self-imposed authority which had the “chutzpah” to test Jesus’ knowledge of the Mosaic Law, based in the Ten Commandments.

Love of neighbor was well known to all Jews.  But, your neighbor was your fellow Jew; those in your immediate inner circle. Those among the gentiles did not necessarily deserve the same generosity and in some cases, such as the Samaritans, to be outright despised and hated.  They were in circles far away from the center if at all.

In classic Jewish style, Jesus answers his question with a question: “What is written in the law?”  Our Lord knew that this upstart scholar knew the answer to both questions already so he turned it all back on him.  To love God and neighbor is fundamental to salvation.

Yet, Jesus did not simply end there.  He expanded the boundaries of cultural and societal relationships to essentially there being no boundaries. The hated Samaritan becomes the “good” Samaritan. Along the road come the priest and later a Levite, who feared defilement and ritual impurity lest they even touch this poor beaten man.  Their loyalty was to the restriction of the law and they sacrificed an opportunity for compassion in favor of legality.

Meanwhile, the Samaritan, a bitter enemy of the Jewish lawyer, becomes his true neighbor. Notice, Jesus deliberately leaves the injured man nameless in order that all who hear this story can easily make the connection to this being every man/woman?

The answer to the first question of the lawyer – “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” – is finally answered by Jesus after he tells the dramatic story: “Go and do likewise.”

We can and should see the ordinary tasks of everyday life as moments to be good Samaritans.  In ordinary kindnesses and moments of assistance we can be good Samaritans. We must pray for the grace to not just live in crisis mode but to truly feel empathy with those who suffer. 

We can’t save the world. God already has. But we can each day increase the level of goodness through our acts of charity toward those in need. 

How big are your circles? How far do they reach?  Our gathering for the Eucharist each weekend reminds us that our circles should be very broad and inclusive indeed. Even your enemy becomes your neighbor to who we owe compassion.
O God who show the light of your truth
to those who go astray,
so that they may return to the right path,
give all who for the faith they profess
are accounted Christians
the grace to reject whatever is contrary to the name of Christ
and to strive after all that does it honor.  

(Collect: Roman Missal)