8 PENTECOST, PROPER X - C - 16 LUKE 10. 25-37
Today’s collect sets the tone for today’s Gospel passage: “O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have the grace and power faithfully to accomplish them…”
It would appear that the lawyer in today’s gospel who asked Jesus “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” already knew the answer. His question was a standard rabbinical one to which there were standard answers, much like the questions and answers in our own Catechism. Jesus confirms his answer and directs him to go and live it and he will indeed inherit eternal life.
Each of the synoptic present a version of this same question. In Mark, for example, a scribe asks Jesus which commandment is “the first of all?” Jesus answers with the summary of the law, “ we are to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind; and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.” There is no other commandment greater than these two.
The scribe recognized the truth of Jesus’ response and commented that such love for God and others is much more important than burnt offerings and sacrifices. Jesus was surprised by his comment and told the scribe in turn that he was not far from the kingdom of God.
Matthew says that the question comes from a Pharisee. His version of the incident emphasizes the fact that the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself “is like” the command to love God with one’s whole being. Although each of the Synoptic presents us with a different version of the question the basic message is the same: love God first, then our neighbor as ourselves.
The uniqueness and richness of each of the gospel accounts lies in their individual contributions to the over all picture of Jesus and His teachings that tell us who he really is and what he is all about. For example, Luke alone gives us the parable of the Good Samaritan that appears in today’s gospel as a response to the lawyer’s second question “who is my neighbor?”
It appears that Jesus’ response to his initial question was not enough. The lawyer leaves God out of his second question, perhaps because he thinks he knows all he needs to know about God, and focuses entirely on the concept of “neighbor.”
His sole purpose in asking the second, however, is to justify himself in the eyes of God; hoping that in the final analysis God would find him acceptable. The answer Jesus gives surely must have shocked as well as surprised him.
During the time of Jesus, Jews and Samaritans literally hated each other. This hatred had gone on for hundreds of years and is still reflected in the smoldering tension between Israel and Palestine today. Both sides claim to be the true inheritors of the promise to Abraham and Moses; both sides, in consequence, regard themselves as the rightful possessors of the land.
Few Israelis today will travel from Galilee to Jerusalem by the direct route, because it will take them through the West Bank and risk violence. In exactly the same way, most first century pilgrims making the same journey would prefer, as Jesus did himself, to travel down the Jordan Valley to Jericho and then turn West up the hill to Jerusalem. It was much safer.
Some might go so far as to say that Jesus’ response was not “politically correct.” The priest, who represented the highest religious leadership among the Jews does not come off well, and neither does the Levite, who, in the time of Jesus, was a Lay-Associate of the priest. The Samaritan, on the other hand, was not expected to show mercy to any Jew. And As far as Jews were concerned, there were no “good” Samaritans.
With that said, the one thing that has always interested me about this well-known story is the fact that the lawyer had not asked “how” one is to be a loving neighbor, he had asked how one is to recognize the neighbor we are called to love. He asked “who;” he was told “how.”
We are familiar with the story, and we get the point. The Samaritan’s actions are the gospel ideal. And like the lawyer, we are to “go and do likewise.” But wouldn’t it be a lot easier if we only knew who it was we are called to love instead of “how?” if only we could identify those persons. If only we could get a list.
If God would only provide their names for me at the beginning of each day as I prayed the Morning Office. Then, I could be on the look out for those individuals throughout the day expecting to find them. But it doesn’t work that way. I don’t know and you don’t know. Because God’s love is unconditional towards us, our love of neighbor is to be likewise; nothing less than a reflection of His.
We are not provided with a list in advance, and we never will be. Jesus’ description of “how” we are to love tells us that the “who” is open-ended. Neighborly love knows no limit. The moral of the story is “if you see someone in the ditch, go and help them.” Neighbor is anyone in need.
What is at stake, then and now, is the question of whether we will use the God-given revelation of love and grace as a way of boosting our own sense of isolated security and purity, or whether we will see it as a call, a challenge to extend that love and grace to the whole world.
No Church, no Christian, can remain content with easy definitions which allow us to watch most of the world lying half dead in the road and do nothing.
Rather we pray that we may know and understand what things we ought to do, and that God in his wide reaching grace and mercy will give us the power to faithfully accomplish them, that is, to live the gospel ideal, not in hope of justifying ourselves before God, but for the Glory of God and for the sake of Him who died and rose again, even Jesus Christ, Our Lord. AMEN+