"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

15th SUNDAY -C- July 14, 2019

Deuteronomy 30: 10-14; Ps. 69; Colossians 1: 15-20; Luke 10: 25-37

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

Jesus is a wonderful storyteller. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a classic story that has drama and unforgettable characters. It’s crafted by a master storyteller. One of its literary features of the parable is the repetition of the phrase that describes the priest and the Levite. Luke says that they not only did not stop to help the man, but that they "passed by on the opposite side." Both did the same thing: "They passed by on the opposite side."

People hearing this story would have made excuses for them. The victim was left half dead we are told. If they touched the man and he were dead they would have become ritually unclean and not allowed to officiate, or participate in Temple worship, which their positions required. Others will defend the two religious men saying they were alone on a notoriously dangerous road. This could have been a set up, a trap for a solitary traveler.

Jesus does not condemn the two who passed by. But he refocuses our attention and tells about one person, a foreigner, who crossed over to the other side and took a chance to help the victim. What is it that makes people do such things? Is it only people of extraordinary courage who are willing to risk everything, even their own lives to help another?

A while back I read a story in Time magazine entitled, "A Conspiracy of Goodness." Johtje and Art Vos were a Dutch couple who risked their lives during the Holocaust to hide Jews from the Nazis. They were part of a group called "Rescuers" that saved nearly 500,000 lives. When Johtje and Art were asked what made them take such risks they and others responded in a similar way, a way that sounded quite ordinary, "We didn’t think about it." One of the Rescuers put it this way, "You started off storing a suitcase for a friend and before you knew it, you are in over your head. We did what any human being would do." Well, not any human being!

A study was done of these "Rescuers." It was found that they came from all classes of people, educated and uneducated, rich and poor, believers and even atheists. They were individualists. While people follow the demands of society and their peers, these people weren’t constrained by what others expected them to do. Family, friends and society can exert pressures that restrain good deeds. The Samaritan did not say to himself, "Well that man is a Jew. My people would never help a Jew."

These "Rescuers" had a history of good deeds. They visited people in hospitals, collected books for poor students, cared for stray animals. Little good deeds were like training for the big deeds that came their way. Many of the "Rescuers" had a sense of universalism; they did not see Jews as "Jews" first, but as human beings.

The Samaritan did not see a Jew by the side of the road, he saw an injured person. Draw your own parallels to our day.

The article was entitled a "Conspiracy of Goodness." Conspiracy is not always a threatening notion, it means "to breathe with."

That is who we are as a church; we are a Conspiracy of Goodness. We breathe together the same breath of God’s Spirit to do good, regardless of who peoples’ origins, marital status, race, sexual orientation, or religion. The Spirit breathes in us to make the instinct to help others a natural response; as natural as breathing in and breathing out.

Note in the parable that the Samaritan carried with him the "healing ointments" of the day; wine for cleansing, oil to promote healing. The parable suggests to us that with God’s Spirit we have the necessary elements for healing and helping. We draw on our natural skills, gifts from God and take the necessary steps to cross the road to the side of the needy and dress their wounds.

We frequently get into talks on religion – all well and good. But the parable is calling for response. The focus of the parable isn’t even on loving God; but on loving neighbor. Fred Craddock, who was a noted scripture scholar and homiletician points out that to ask, "Who is my neighbor?" is to ask for definition of the object and extent of love. Jesus’ question to the scholar of the law asks, "Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?" This question shifts the attention to the kind of person one is to be, rather than about who are, or are not, one’s neighbor.

Jesus’ question at the end of the passage is outside the parable, it is his corrective to an improper question. We are a people of another kingdom, we live by another standard. We are to be people who act in love, love that has not drawn boundaries to include some and exclude others, love that expects no "return on the dollar." The Law of God (referenced in the first reading) is no mere code, yet we believers are always tempted to legalism. So we have all these legal questions, for example, "Does this Mass count for my Sunday obligation?" The first reading suggests God’s Law requires true interiorization, not merely strict conformity to statutes.

I like the symbols in the parable, especially that the Samaritan "poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them." I am struck that he had these healing elements with him as he traveled. We don’t always get the chance to go get the supplies, skills, education, or even another person, to help. We travel with what we need, thanks to the Holy Spirit we are already equipped for healing. We draw upon the Spirit that was given us at Baptism and we trust its presence as we attend to the wounded.

Something in the Samaritan was moved, like those "Rescuers" in the magazine article were. He did not go through a long debate about the merits of this wounded person. Unlike the Samaritan, these days our nation seems less "moved with pity." Even some Christians have turned their backs upon the wounded, abandoned and sick at our borders. Do we pass hard judgment on them or, like the Samaritan, do we have compassion and respond to the wounded by the side of the road?

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071419.cfm