My neighbor Dt 30:10-14; Ps 69:14,17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37; Col 1:15-20; Lk 10:25-37 This Fourth of July I watched the news reports about the earthquake in Southern California and saw an interview with the mayor of the town of Ridgecrest, Peggy Breeden. Her town was at the epicenter of the quake. “What should people do?” asked the interviewer. “Make sure you are safe,” the mayor said, “and then go next door and see if your neighbors are OK. That’s what communities do.” Perhaps Mayor Breeden had read the Gospel passage from Luke for this Sunday. We are treated this week to one of the most pointed and powerful of Jesus’ parables. The account begins with a “scholar of the law” trying to “test” Jesus. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus is asked. Instead of an elaborate answer that might give the scholar some opening for debate, Jesus goes directly to the heart of the matter, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” The scholar replies correctly, citing one of the most fundamental passages in the Bible, one recited daily by observant Jews and a text contained in the mezuzah attached to their doorposts and worn in phylacteries on their foreheads and arms when praying. It is the famed “shema” (Hebrew word for “listen” or “hear”) or creed of Israel found in Deuteronomy 6:4, “You shall love the lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind.” The man adds another key text — Leviticus 19:18 — that Jesus himself always linked with this love command: “and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus appears to close the discussion saying, “’You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” But the scholar was not really seeking an answer but a rhetorical victory. Wishing to “justify himself” he asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” This draws from Jesus the parable of the Good Samaritan. As in so many of Jesus’ parables, more than one profound truth is folded into the story. Who is neighbor to the traveler who is attacked by robbers and left half dead by the roadside? Obviously, not those who moved to the other side of the road to avoid engaging with this wounded stranger, but the one who bound up his wounds, took him to an inn and paid for his care. But there is more to this story. The first two travelers who avoid the man are a priest and a Levite from the tribe of priests. Perhaps they feared incurring ritual impurity in dealing with this wounded and bleeding man. Or perhaps their high religious status had unfortunately dulled their fundamental instinct of compassion for the sufferings of others. Adding to the irony, Jesus identifies the man who acts with compassion — who is the true neighbor — as a Samaritan, a group despised by Jews and considered errant and unfaithful. The Samaritan, of all people, is the one who treated the wounded man “with mercy.” The first reading for today is from the book of Deuteronomy and extols the beauty and clarity of God’s commands — a life-giving word that is not mysterious or remote, not “up in the sky” or “across the sea” but something “very near to you,” something “in your hearts.” That understanding of God’s commands is illustrated in the instinctive mercy and compassion of the Samaritan. While the priest and the Levite may have been debating within themselves whether it was prudent or dangerous for them to help the man, the Samaritan acted from his heart and showed mercy. Our Catholic tradition is rich and multi-dimensional. The probings of great theologians about the nature of God, the vast beauty of our liturgy, the exquisite heritage of our art and architecture, the manifold expressions of our spirituality, the stories of our saints are all wondrous and intricate parts of the heritage of our faith. But, as Pope Francis has taught us in a vivid metaphor that reflects the spirit of Jesus’ parable, the church, first and foremost, is to be like a “field hospital,” always ready to bring God’s mercy to the wounds of the world. Everything else comes afterward.