15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading 1. Deuteronomy 30: 10-14
Reading II. Colossians 1: 15-20
Gospel. Luke 10: 25-37 (The Good Samaritan.)
There is an old legal maxim that ignorance of the law is no defense. Maybe that comes from today's reading from the book of Deuteronomy. Moses tells the people that they can't be ignorant of the law because it is built into their very being. "For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you....it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts..."
Let's face it. Even if our religious education stopped after grade school, we know that it is wrong to kill, or steal, or lie, or commit adultery. We don't have to be a theologian, or a lawyer, or an intellectual to figure it out. In fact, it often seems that the more education we have, the more we try to deny or explain away the fundamental truth that lies in our hearts.
Today's gospel is the famous parable of the "Good Samaritan." In all of literature only the story of the Prodigal Son is more well known than this one, and yet here it is presented to us as the centerpiece of our liturgy on an ordinary summer Sunday in Ordinary time. Why did our Lord use parables or stories?
Let me tell a joke to make a point. Two string beans were crossing the street when one of them was hit by a car. An ambulance came and took both of them to the hospital. A few hours later the doctor came out of the operating room and told the bean that he had good news and bad news. "What's the good news?" "Your friend is going to make it," the doctor said. "What's the bad news?" "He'll be a vegetable!" ...I'm sure that most of you will remember this story much longer than the rest of this homily. Isn't it true that a well told story will not only have more of immediate impact but also it will remain in our memories much longer. After all, no one took notes while Jesus was talking but his stories were told and retold by his followers.
Jesus is prompted to tell the parable after a student of the Law tested Him by asking, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus asks him how the law of Moses answers the question. In reply, the man repeats the "Shema" that prayer that every Jew knew by heart and which every one of us would do well to memorize and repeat every day.
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.
After Jesus commends his answer, the man asks, "who is my neighbor." Rather than giving a theological or philosophical lecture, Jesus answers with the story about the man who was beaten and stripped by robbers and left for dead on the road to Jericho. A priest and a Levite pass him by without lending a hand. They even cross to the opposite side of the road to avoid the stricken man. Both of them had to know in their hearts that the Law commanded assistance to the needy.
It was left for the Samaritan to take pity on the man. Now Samaritans were Jews who had intermarried with foreigners and had contaminated their religion with idol worship. They were viewed by the Jews as heretics and idolaters and regarded with hatred and contempt. Nevertheless, our Lord says that a "Samaritan traveler...was moved with compassion" at the sight of the man. Commentators tell us that this is the only instance in the gospels where the verb which means "moved with compassion" is used for anyone besides Jesus. The Samaritan when he dresses the man's wounds and takes him to a nearby inn to care for him, is acting like Jesus.
Of course, when Jesus asks the lawyer, "Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers' victim?" his answer is the same as ours would be. "The one who treated him with mercy." What other answer could there be? This law is ingrained in all of our hearts even though we all have difficulty in obeying the true impulses of our hearts.
In today's second reading St. Paul says the Jesus "is the image of the invisible God." For St. Paul, and for Moses, and for the "Good Samaritan" God is not a distant, invisible, unattainable being. We do not have to look "up in the sky" or far "across the sea" to find Him. We can find Him in the words, and in the deeds, and in the simple, but unforgettable, parables of Jesus.