Jul 9, 2016

15th Sunday: "Go and do likewise"

"And who is my neighbor?"

Dt 30: 10-14
Col 1: 15-20

Lk 10: 25-37

Some present day examples:

The vast majority of us live close enough to other people who we may refer to as “my neighbor.” Yet, when is the last time you spoke to them?  So often these days we live as if we are strangers to one another.  In fact it has become not a rare scene, sad to say, to watch a table full of youth and their parents out for dinner.  Rather than engage in conversation, they sit at the table, phone in hand, their face directed to the device, either playing a game or texting with no look even to the person next to them, their brother, sister, mother or father.  And sometimes, the parents are engaged in the same with no conversation even between husband and wife. Is this family life? Who is my neighbor?

A while back I heard an interesting comment made on the popular culture of society since the 1950’s.  It was said that two inventions forever significantly changed human community: the television and air conditioning both having come of age in the late 1940’s and 50’s. That’s an odd combination isn’t it?

While we have become accustomed to both of these as the accepted norm of living, if we think about that statement, we might see some truth.  What did air conditioning and television do to a sense of community?

People no longer sat outside on their porches or lawn on a hot summer evening, sharing with neighbors, enjoying an ice tea or something stronger, engaging in conversation (with the human voice), and taking a personal interest in the lives of others. Now we live inside, where the weather is cool and comfortable but also very private. Still no one of us, myself included, would want to live without the advantages of an air conditioned car, home, restaurant, movie theatre, etc. Who is my neighbor?

Television is a wonderful invention but in a similar way what did it do?  Rather than sharing thoughts and ideas, reading inspiring literature, or just enjoying a friendly conversation, on goes the TV.  We silently stare at it, passive as can be, to enjoy a show, in a solitary surrounding for we have no need of others to enjoy television.  So, no community any longer, only cool comfortable homes on a hot summer day as we sit by ourselves in television land.  Who is my neighbor? 

While these examples may seem a bit extreme overall, they do make a valid point of how in our present day we often become easily blind to the needs of our neighbor.  “Out of sight, out of mind” is an easy maxim to live by these days. We probably don’t need to work too hard to live by that truth. In doing so, I may unconsciously set boundaries between myself and “them.”
Our Gospel this Sunday (Lk 10: 25-37) certainly reveals a stunning answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” – the answer is simply “everyone in need is my neighbor,” particularly those in need of compassion and mercy. Even those who I might even think are my enemies or strangers is my neighbor.  If that person, for example, the one you find most uncomfortable or who has caused you some pain or frustration in your life was truly in need, would you help them?  Could I put aside my personal negative feelings and dislike for them to come to their aid, regardless of whether they show any appreciation or not? Who is my neighbor?

The story of the Good Samaritan is as well-known and popular as that of the Prodigal Son. (Lk 15: 11-32). Jesus’ own insight into human nature as he told these parables was life changing. For it wasn’t the Levite or priest, protecting their ritual purity, who came to the aid of the unfortunate stranger, beaten and lying along the road, but rather his enemy, one of the “dogs” as they were referred to by the ancient Jews, a Samaritan who showed great compassion and generosity to a man who suffered.  Regardless of the ancient prejudices or historical and theological differences, one thing alone rose above all as a greater value – that of love and mercy.  Who is my neighbor?

The hostility between Jew and Samaritan in the time of Jesus was a great chasm built on history and theology.  The rival locations, taught the Samaritan, of the proper place for Jews to worship was Mt. Gerizim, not Jerusalem. The Samaritans were considered heretical; a mix of Jew and Gentile that went back to the Babylonian exile in the sixth century B.C. At any rate, their disgust of Samaritans and the Samaritans compassion for the unnamed suffering man is astounding which is the point of the story indeed. Who is my neighbor?

This lesson of compassion for the suffering is an indelible example of how we are to live as Christians in the world of today.  Can I change the world by this behavior? Often it seems no matter much how good I do or others carry out, the world continues to be a selfish, divided, bigoted, violent place in which to live.  Yet, I can bring light into darkness and by doing what Jesus teaches – “Go and do likewise” – the world can be changed because such compassion still exists side by side of the selfishness and greed as the better road to walk.

Not long after his election Pope Francis coined the phrase “a culture of encounter.” The essential meaning of this is that we would not just talk but act; to encounter in a human way those on the fringe, the forgotten and invisible, the poor and the suffering.  The Church would be a “field hospital” for the wounded and society would adopt this vision and encounter all human beings as dignified and valued.  This is what the Samaritan did and so the suffering man becomes not just one individual but all of humanity – our neighbors, friends, family members, strangers, etc. 

In many ways the Church supports profound works of charity and compassion in order to be good Samaritans.  So it’s not so much that we try to change THE world but that we change the world around us in our world wherever we may find ourselves. We learn to imitate Jesus’ own compassion, which is mercy, and know that we minister as human beings, not as bureaucracies or conditional charity.  High ideals indeed but our God encounters us and calls us upward.   

To encounter the poor, suffering, the forgotten and unfortunate is to encounter Christ himself.  While it certainly would be the physically suffering and the economically poor it is also the great human hunger for belonging that we can find everywhere, to feel isolated and alone. In fact this parable is an illustration of what God has done for humanity as a whole.  He saw our woundedness and suffering and sent his Son to bring us hope and healing.  The Eucharist is that living presence which continues to take us out of isolation and into community – His Body.

Let us “go and do likewise.” 

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 
the name of Christ
and to strive after all that does it honor

(Roman Missal: Collect of Mass)