Sunday, July 14, 2013


   Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time    

A Sunday school teacher was telling her class
the story of the Good Samaritan.
She described the man’s sorry state in graphic detail,
and then asked, “If you found a man on the roadside—
all wounded, bruised, and bleeding—what would you do?”
Which is when a thoughtful little girl raised her hand and said,
“I think I’d throw up!”

You know I often like to start my homilies with a little joke.
Finding the right one can take some time…
…not because there aren’t enough jokes out there,
but because so many of them shouldn’t be told in church.
Some are simply too risqué.
Some use foul language.
But there’s another entire category of jokes
that are generally off-limits
because of the hurtful stereotypes they perpetuate.
If I were to tell a joke about a blond,
you’d expect her to be…dumb.
If I were to tell a joke about an Irishman,
you’d expect him to be…drunk.
And if I were to tell a joke about a Jew,
you’d expect him to be…cheap.
(There…you’ve passed your quiz on stereotypes!)

When Jesus mentioned the Samaritan
in this Sunday’s gospel parable,
many who heard him surely thought
that he was working up to a joke…
…and the last thing they’d have expected
is for that Samaritan to be…good.

In modern English, you almost never hear the word “Samaritan”
without first hearing the word “good.”
We even have “Good Samaritan laws”
which require us to do good.
But to the Jewish audience of Jesus’ day,
there was nothing at all good about Samaritans.
Try to imagine talk of a “good Al-Qaeda terrorist,”
and you start to get the idea.
Without a doubt, Samaritans were
the much-maligned and long-hated enemy.

Realizing that really changes up
how we hear the details of this familiar parable.
Because, you see…
…Jesus doesn’t want you to be a Good Samaritan.

We’ve taken this parable
and turned it into a mushy morality tale:
a nice story about being nice,
about performing random acts of kindness.
It makes us feel good
about giving money to our favorite charities
which feed the hungry, shelter the homeless,
and otherwise bandage up the wounds of our hurting world…
…without requiring us to dirty our own hands
or get too close to the yuck.

But is that what it really means to love your neighbor as yourself?
Because if someone only chose to love me from a safe distance,
I’d be pretty quick to question if it was really love.

What is Jesus telling that scholar of the law?
What does Jesus want us to do?
Jesus wants us…
…to learn from our enemies.
…to listen to the people we hate—and who hate us.
…to look again at the ones whom we fear and despise.
…to do quite the opposite of what we were taught as children:
to go out and talk to strangers
and to those who are very different from ourselves.

That rather turns the tables, doesn’t it?
We’re not the wise, wealthy, and powerful ones
who must reach down to fix what’s broken and poor;
we’re actually the one who’s beaten badly,
left on the roadside for dead.  (cf. D. Henson)

After reading my homilies last Sunday
about our need as members of the Church
to really get to know each other, to reach out,
and to build a truly Christ-centered community,
a friend responded in an email.
Mike talked about his experience one Sunday at Mass
when he noticed a new-comer in the church.
He also noticed that,
while many people had looked him over very carefully,
not one person said hello
and several even avoided the stranger.
Mike said,
            We went up to him after Mass to introduce ourselves
            and find out who he was.…
            I have to admit it was a little bit of an effort on my part, too;
            it would have been easy
            to just “go about my business” after Mass,
            but this time I was blessed
            with some curiosity and consideration
            to at least say hello to this guy.
            And…I met some of Christ in a traveler and fellow Catholic.
Mike went on to reflect,
            We are a strange bunch, [us] Catholics!
            We have Mother Teresa, who takes care of everyone,
            and we have people at church who avoid community
            while at Mass or just after it.

When Mother Teresa began her work in the slums of Calcutta,
what was it she sought to bring to the dying and destitute?
Food, medicine, and shelter, to be sure.
But something else, besides—
something which no “Good Samaritan law” could require:
she sought to bring them love,
and not just the love of one generous woman
and her band of sisters,
but the very love of God.
As one author puts it,
            The human law can keep me from shooting my neighbor.
            It cannot keep me from hating him.
            The human law can tax me to support a soup kitchen.
            It cannot make me love the hungry.  (A. Esolen)

Can I recognize that I am not among the world’s saviors,
but instead among those in need of saving?
And can I also recognize that God is the ultimate stranger,
that God is the consummate new-comer,
that the living image of the invisible God—Jesus Christ—
is “the” Good Samaritan,
who will take any risk and spare no expense
to love my beaten, bruised, and bloodied soul back to health?
Ask for the grace to personally experience that love—
that Divine Love which made himself your neighbor—
with all your heart, with all your being,
with all your strength, and with all your mind.
But be careful!
Because you’ll never, ever be the same again!

You take your neighbors with you wherever you go.
Sure, they’re lying in the slums of Calcutta.
But they’re also sitting over in the next pew.
Move in closer to them.
Listen to them.
Love them.
That’s what God has done for you.
Now go, and do likewise.

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