15th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 10 July 2016

"And who is my neighbour?"

Scripture Reading – Luke 10:25-37

There was a lawyer who, to disconcert Jesus, stood up and said to him, ‘Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? What do you read there?’ He replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.’ ‘You have answered right,’ said Jesus ‘do this and life is yours.’

But the man was anxious to justify himself and said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was once on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of brigands; they took all he had, beat him and then made off, leaving him half dead. Now a priest happened to be travelling down the same road, but when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite who came to the place saw him, and passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan traveller who came upon him was moved with compassion when he saw him. He went up and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He then lifted him on to his own mount, carried him to the inn and looked after him. Next day, he took out two denarii and handed them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said “and on my way back I will make good any extra expense you have.” Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the brigands‘ hands?’ ‘The one who took pity on him’ he replied. Jesus said to him, ‘Go, and do the same yourself.’

Gospel reading – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com

REFLECTION

“And who is my neighbour?”

by Fr Dan Devitt SDB

At a recent funeral I met a remarkable young lady. She was not expected at the funeral. Keira is severely paralysed, very dependant, and living in England. What persuaded her to undertake the hazardous journey, the difficulties of the flight, the inconvenience of it all. Keira wanted to be a Good Samaritan; she wanted to be personally present to her grieving life-time friends. She wanted them to experience how much she cared.

To-day’s passages from scripture remind us that God’s law is a law of caring, a law of love. In the parable of the Good Samaritan a lawyer poses a question and Jesus provides the answer by describing what a Good Samaritan does. The power of love is demonstrated by the Samaritan’s personal involvement in the needy stranger.

There is a shocking simplicity in the way Jesus interprets the law of God. He sums up all the law in the simple injunction – Love God and love your neighbour as yourself. And wasn’t that the story of his life. Jesus, himself the Good Samaritan, He was moved at the sight of sinners, the sick and the suffering. He did not pass people by in their poverty and pain. He connected with all in need.

To follow Jesus, the Good Samaritan, is to be invited to imitate him, to act like him, to be a good neighbour to all in need. There are endless needs in our modern world; food for the starving, access to clean water, education, peace, justice, reconciliation – the list goes on. The special people we are called to love are the alienated, the marginalized, the oppressed, the disenfranchised. We are called to care for those who have fallen among robbers and exploiters, who take away young peoples’ basic rights and abandon them to live in squalor and depredation.

We can feel helpless in the face of such challenging needs. When Jimmy Carter was in the Oval office he placed a slogan on the president’s desk. The slogan read “Lord, your sea is so big and my boat is so small”. Facing big problems is nothing new. The Christophers remind us that “it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

So often we can pass by those in need because of some prejudice of ours. On those occasions we would do well to look into our own hearts and discover how wounded, how broken, we are ourselves. Then we can discover in the weak and wounded and broken our own reflection and thereby become wounded healers ourselves. As Leonard Cohen would put: “there are cracks everywhere, that’s how the light gets in”.

In her beautiful prayer St Theresa reminds us that Christ has no body now but ours.

Are our eyes open to see the pain in the eyes of other peoples?

Are our ears open to hear the cry in the voices of other peoples?

Are our hearts open to become involved in the hurts of other peoples?

LECTIO DIVINA

by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB

Introduction to Lectio Divine

Today’s gospel passage does not require comment. The lesson Jesus is teaching is as obvious today as it was that day when he gave it to the scribe. It is easy to understand but not easy to put into practice.  This passage calls for a radical change of behaviour on the part of those who think they are good enough because they think they are at rights with God.  In the scribe who asked Jesus the question, we can see ourselves who are so preoccupied with our own salvation that we are not concerned about our neighbour’s salvation, or even with the simple healing of our neighbour.  If there is one thing that characterizes good people, it is the relationship between their own personal interest in God and their concern for their neighbour. We are concerned about not being able to live close to God but we don’t worry about living close to our neighbour. We ask ourselves how we can come to God, and we ignore the fact that we have abandoned our neighbour. We are afraid of moving away from God whom we need so much, but we don’t seem to feel any shame about moving away from the neighbour who has need of us.

Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it

The episode consists of a conversation with two well defined parts (Lk 10, 25-8.29-37). Both begin with a question from the scribe: (What shall I do? Lk 10, 28; and Who is my neighbour? Lk 10, 37). What is important is not to ask what we should do, but to do the will of God. Anyone who approaches Jesus, even just to meet him, will know the will of God. The meeting of the scribe with Jesus is motivated by a desire for salvation. His question was certainly not ill-intentioned. Jesus took advantage of it to explain the meaning of the first commandment of the law. The scribe approaches Jesus knowing that he must do more, but he does not know what he must do to inherit eternal life.

The first part is an academic discussion between experts on the law, around a central topic introduced by the scribe. His question seems sincere, but the narrator reveals that it was not well-intentioned. Anyone asking that question should have known what Jesus’ answer would be, and what his thoughts were on the matter, and indeed the scribe knew very well. By asking him what the law says on the issue (Lk 10, 25), Jesus obliged the scribe to focus his attention not on what he might say, but on the will of God as it was written. The reply points to obedience: listen to the word of God (and put it into practice) and you will live.

The second part of the conversation was on the initiative of Jesus, although it was provoked by the not altogether innocent question of the scribe: yes, but who is my neighbour? (Lk 10, 29). Jesus replies, somewhat enigmatically, with a parable. This makes the questioner think for himself and find, yet again, the right answer. This time however, it is not to be found in the written Word of God but in a fact of life. Jesus lets him see that the neighbour was not one of those who, in their hurry to serve God, failed to serve the man who was wounded and abandoned. A neighbour is one who takes pity on the person who is in need.  Knowing this obliges one to practise it.

Meditate: apply what the text says to life

An ill-intentioned question is the occasion for Jesus to explain the meaning of the first commandment of the law. Certainly it is important to know in advance what concerns our salvation! However, the man asking the question knew the answer already. He had to choose between the hundreds of precepts that regulated the life of the just person, and he chose the two that were really important. Jesus had to admit that the answer was right, but he challenged the scribe to put it into practice.  This is precisely where the scribe’s difficulty lay. He knew what he ought to do, to love God and neighbour, but he did not know how to do it, because he did not know who his neighbour was.

There are some questions that should not be put to Jesus, because the answer is already revealed in the Word of God. Then one who loves God with his whole heart, and loves his neighbour as himself, will inherit the kingdom of heaven.  The scribe, who knew the law, did not have difficulty in showing God the total, permanent undivided love that he deserves … but he still did not know who the neighbour was whom he should love as himself.  He thinks he is capable of loving God as he deserves. To him it seems easy to love a God who demands everything. He has a problem, however, when it comes to identifying the neighbour he ought to love as himself.  The problem is not in loving, but in identifying whom to love. It is somewhat shocking that someone like the scribe, who has no difficulty in loving God as he demands, does not know who the neighbour is that he should love as he loves himself.  No one will be able to love their neighbour if they do not love God with their whole heart and their whole mind and with all their strength.

The scribe’s question was ill-intentioned, not so much because he had the answer beforehand, but because he did not think about his neighbour from the very beginning. He thought that loving God was easier than loving his neighbour. He imagined he could know and love God without knowing who or where his neighbour was. He believed that he loved a God who was not his neighbour, while he asked who his neighbour was. He believed he knew God, but he did not know that every person was his neighbour. He took for granted what is not obvious in every word, but he failed to see the obvious. With this question, the scribe thought he was excused from obeying, but in fact he condemned himself. We often do the same when we say we are willing to serve God but we fail to serve the people around us. Serving God does not mean getting what we need from God but serving the neighbour who needs something from us.

It is sad to think that the problem of this man, who knew the law so well, was that he did not know who his neighbour was. He knew what he ought to do, but he did not know whom he should do it to. This has always been a problem for believers. They give God the love he deserves, but they must also love their neighbour. This is a particular difficulty for people who spend a lot of their lives studying God. The more they know about God, the less they know about their neighbour and who the person is they ought to love as themselves. They deceive themselves into thinking they are close to God, and they forget the neighbour close to them. We cannot find fault with the scribe for asking if there is anyone, apart from God, who is deserving of the love we give to God. It stands to reason that God should demand total love, but in practice we do not succeed in giving God all our love. However, who can dream of being loved as he loves himself? Who then is my neighbour?

Jesus answers that question with a parable that helps us to identify our neighbour. The story he tells is very true to life. There was a man in need of help. Three people, all of them strangers to the man, took quite different attitudes towards him. The first two, both of them men of God, saw him and ignored him. They were just not interested in him.  The third, a despised Samaritan, saw him, took pity on him, stopped, went close to him and offered immediate help. He gave him time, money and assistance, and when he left him, he made sure he was well cared for by someone else. The Samaritan was not considered a good man, or a good neighbour, but he was the only one of those who passed by who acted as a neighbour of the wounded man. He was the only one who drew near to the man in need and offered help.

By telling this story Jesus helps us to find the solution without giving it to us explicitly. The neighbour is not the person who is near, but the person who needs our help, and to whom we should draw near. My neighbour is the person who needs my time, my help, my support and my assistance. My neighbour may be someone who is far away from me, or unknown to me, a stranger or even an enemy (as this man was to the Samaritan). My neighbour is not my neighbour because he or she lives nearby, or happens to be a family member. My neighbour is anyone that I should draw near to because he or she is in difficulty and needs my help. The commandment of love of neighbour extends to unsuspected and sometimes troublesome limits. This is so, not only because we have responsibility for those who need our help, whoever they may be, but especially because as long as there is someone who needs my help, I cannot stop loving my neighbour as myself.

It is not by mere chance that in the parable, those who were dedicated to serving God kept well clear of the poor man in need. Jesus criticises severely those who ignore the needy in order to fulfil their obligations towards God. It is in the needy that we meet our neighbour and meet God. There is no obligation more holy and more urgent than loving God whom we need and loving the neighbour who needs us.

We need to look again, more carefully, at the criticism Jesus makes in this story. The people who were least interested in their neighbour, were those most interested in God. They were believers who sincerely worshipped God, but they did not show brotherly love to people in need. They were men of God, but they were not good men. They were always close to God but they did not draw close to the people they met along the road. They were busy serving God but they did not find time, nor did they have any wish, to serve the people who asked for their help. Their whole life was dedicated to God and, as a result, they neglected to dedicate even a few hours to their neighbour. They were completely dedicated to God who is in need of nothing, and they thought there was no need to dedicate themselves to the people who needed their help.

The teaching is clear, and the scribe understood it very easily. Our neighbour is not someone who is close to us that we can attend to easily when he or she needs our help. Our neighbour is any needy person who asks for our help, support, friendship and compassion. The neighbour we are to love is not someone we have always known, or someone we live close to, someone we know well with all his strengths and weaknesses. The neighbour we are to love is someone we have to draw near to because they let us see their difficulty and need, someone who confides in us their need and who depends on us to take care of them. This is our neighbour. This is the person we are to love as ourselves.

We do not need great imagination to see how this is reflected in our behaviour. We spend our whole life seeking God and ignoring our neighbour in need, who is the authentic face of the God we seek. We are greatly in need of God, but we do not take account of those who need us. We continue cultivating a life of faith and we remain insensitive to our neighbour. We want to obtain God’s love and mercy, but we are not willing to show love and mercy to those who beg for them from us.  We journey towards God, longing for his love, but despising those we meet on our way.

We must love God with all that we are and have. We must love him also by recognizing him in the neighbour whom we are to love as ourselves. The two loves are not identical but the second is the test of the first. Anyone who sees a neighbour in need and turns away, does not love himself nor love God as he should. Jesus reminds us today that there is no true love for God, nor authentic worship, without a practical love for the needy people we meet. Jesus teaches us that love for our neighbour – the one who approaches me because he needs my help, or one who is far away and whom I ought to approach to help him in his need –  needs to be practical and does not allow any excuse.  Fulfilling the law means being a neighbour to one who needs us. Do this and you will live.

PRAYER

God and Father,
to those who go astray
you reveal the light of your truth
and enable them to return to the right path.
Grant that all who have received the grace of baptism
may strive to be worthy of their Christian calling
and reject everything opposed to it.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

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