15th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C
10-11 July 2010 – Holy Cross Parish
“Go and do likewise”. Which of the 3 men was neighbor to the robbers’ victim? “The one who treated him with mercy…” We are called to be involved in the lives of others, not to shun others, not to be stand-offish or unengaged. Both Old and New Testament bind together love of God and love of neighbor. “Go and do likewise”.
No other woe has plagued society over the last generation quite like alienation; it is in a grownup what people used to refer to when talking about children as “playing strange”, which is something worse than being shy. On the level of society, the experience of alienation carries with it all sorts of negative consequences. We need but think of the old-fashioned expression about a dog-eat-dog world, which took on new meaning for most folks living today as they came to realize that a blind, sick, greedy self-interest was a big part of what fueled the present world economic crisis. There were people to blame for the economic misfortune, hardships and sufferings of many others around the world, people to blame who seemingly could care less about others. As people of faith we knew already that this problem existed. Alienation, being far from God and far from our neighbor, brings with it naught but ill.
The 3rd and 4th meanings in my dictionary for that word, alienation, are: 3. a withdrawing or estrangement, as of the heart or affections. 4. delirium; mental derangement; insanity. In that sense, alienation is not a positive word. The Good Samaritan in the Gospel reached out to the man left for dead along the road to Jericho not out of curiosity, but because he felt something (a closeness, the opposite of distance or alienation) for this fellow human being, whom he had no reason otherwise to have ever met or gotten acquainted with. In the Gospel for today, there is no question that the scholar of the law posing the question to Jesus knew academically what he had to do to inherit eternal life. “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”. Why then, if his duties and means to his salvation were so clearly spelled out in the law, did our scholar ask Jesus further about who might be his neighbor? Was he out of touch with his neighbor? My guess is yes, and perhaps he was also out of touch with the loving God Who gave the Law to Israel and to him who studied that Law.
Our First Reading today from the O.T. book of Deuteronomy quotes Moses speaking God’s word about how obvious the answer should have been for our scholar: “For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, ‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us…’ No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.” If we fail to love God fully and love as ourselves all those who cross our path day in and day out, we can blame it on our alienation from others including God, we can blame it on a sort of mental derangement perhaps that hinders us from doing the very thing for which we were created by God as good. We can say very simply that we have not done the obvious, that we have withdrawn our hearts or affections from those around us. We are much like an indisposed child, playing strange with grandma or an auntie or an older cousin. The scholar of the law was in a sense playing strange in the way grownups do: he posed his question to Jesus because he had long since closed his eyes to what is self-evident; he was being difficult.
Georges Bernanos in his famous book, The Diary of a Country Priest: a Novel, does many things and does them well. Among them, he crafts an image of the dark and diabolical, really, world of people estranged, people alienated from each other and from God. Many of the characters in the novel are bound fast, weeping and gnashing their teeth, in a world mostly of their own making, a world without faith, without hope, without love for God and even on a simple human level keeping them at a distance from their own children, parents and spouses. The young parish priest judges himself helpless in this predicament, whereas others, especially two older priests, one of whom is a friend, find in this young priest’s simplicity and willingness to engage the other that powerful antidote which is needed to confound the devil’s work in his poor country parish. “No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”
How do you stand? How do I stand before the Gospel account of the Good Samaritan? Does the extension or the outer limits of my attention in both space and time reach beyond the ends of my finger tips? Do I seek the other Who is God? Do I come close to the other who is my next of kin, my fellow traveler along the road of life, that man, woman or child who crosses my path, and for that very reason merits my attention? There is not a missionary saint on the books who dreamt of a mission to far-off lands without first treasuring those who were close at hand. Closeness, proximity or openness to recognizing the passerby is the gateway to happiness, theirs and mine, here and hereafter. “No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”
“Go and do likewise”. Just how is that supposed to work? Now you can tell me I am sounding like the scholar of the law. It is obvious and we only have to stop being difficult in all this. Normally we do not humor children who are playing strange and we shouldn’t really humor adults either. Years ago before color TV the Christophers had a program under the motto, if everyone lit just one little candle, what a bright world this would be. This is the subtle message of the Easter candle. This is your challenge and mine: not to find excuses for ignoring those who are nearest and dearest to us, yes! Not finding excuses for elbowing our way through life, as if me, myself and I was all that mattered. Prudence may dictate that I not pick up hitchhikers who have no business out on the Interstate anyway, but the Lord’s lesson about the Good Samaritan has all kinds of other implications for all those people we do indeed know, but with whom for silly and selfish reasons we choose to play strange.
St. Paul spoke about making up what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the salvation of the world. We the baptized by the grace of God can and must work to overcome the barriers of sin and division and do our part to hasten that day when Christ will be all in all, when the face of the other no longer strikes me as strange but familiar: the face of a brother or sister in Christ.“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”.