Father Donald Senior, CP

July 10: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Who is my neighbor?

Dt 30:10-14; Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11; Col 1:15-20; Lk 10:25-37

On this mid-July Sunday, Christians around the world will gather for their weekly observance. There are over 2 billion Christians in today’s population, more than half of them Catholics.

Because Catholics and mainline Protestants now share the same lectionary, we might guess how many millions of people will listen this Sunday to one of the New Testament’s most memorable and challenging of Jesus’ parables, that of the good Samaritan, taken from Luke’s Gospel.

We all know the story. It starts when a lawyer attempts to test Jesus by asking, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Calmly and respectfully, Jesus asks this learned religious man, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” 

The man correctly cites key texts from the Jewish Scriptures found in Leviticus 19:18 and in Deuteronomy 6:5 and 10:12, the command to love God with all your heart and soul and to love your neighbor as yourself. On other occasions, Jesus himself summed up the law in these same fundamental terms.

But the lawyer, apparently feeling outmaneuvered by Jesus, presses on, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers with the parable we know by heart. A man traveling the isolated road from Jerusalem to Jericho is accosted by robbers and left for dead. Two religious types — a priest and a Levite (a member of the tribe from which priests were chosen) — pass the wounded man by, perhaps because they feared they would be ritually contaminated by touching him or maybe because they were motivated by the fear of getting involved, which a lot of us recognize in ourselves.

But then Jesus intensifies the point of this story. The only one to stop and care for the man, giving first aid for his wounds and then taking him to an inn to recover and providing the funds needed for his care is a Samaritan, a member of a group generally shunned and despised by Jesus’ audience.

Then Jesus puts the key question to the lawyer: “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robber’s victim?” One can hear the subdued voice of Jesus’ challenger: “The one who treated him with mercy.” And Jesus’ searing words: “Go and do likewise.” 

A conversation that started as a verbal joust ends up with a profound and pointed directive.

Demonstrating practical care and compassion toward someone who is different from you and perhaps even alien to you stands at the heart of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels. Pope Francis built his powerful 2020 encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” (“On Fraternity and Social Friendship”) around this same parable.  

The phrase “fratelli tutti” (“All are brothers and sisters”) is a quote from St. Francis of Assisi, who declared that “those are blessed who love their brother or sister as much as when they are far away from him as when they are with him.” As the pope observes, the deepest conviction of our Christian faith is “the inalienable dignity of each human person regardless of origin, race or religion, and the supreme law of fraternal love.”

At a time of intensified conflict in our own country and war and violence in troubled spots around the globe, this fundamental teaching of Jesus and of our Christian faith is all the more urgent.

To a certain degree, the message of what we are called to do is as clear and direct as the love command cited by the lawyer in today’s Gospel: “Love God with all your heart and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.” 

The ironic words from Deuteronomy in the first reading make that point. The love command is “not too mysterious and remote for you.” It is “not up in the sky ... nor across the sea. ... No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts.”

The problem is that so many of us have other priorities or concerns that command our allegiance and crowd out the fundamental truth of the Gospel. As a result we cannot hear Jesus’ words: “Do this and you will live.”

We forget what the responsorial Psalm 19 today invites us to repeat: “Your words, Lord, are spirit and life.”



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